Big memories on “The Big Pond”
Last Saturday, my wife and I made the trip from Sunset Country to Mille Lacs, MN with the Bass Cat in tow. Arrangements had been made to have a Hotfoot and Pro-trim installed at Lyback’s Marine, the Bass Cat dealer in town and spend some time on Mille Lacs weather permitting.
Despite the fact that my home body of water, Rainy Lake, is a world class smallmouth fishery, I would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard of the giant bronzebacks that call Mille Lacs or as locals call it “The Big Pond” home.
The class of fishing on Mille Lacs was only further exemplified when the 2016 Bass Master Angler of the Year Tournament was held there last September when the pros brought huge weights to the scale. The tournament really was a Cinderella story, where local Seth Feider took the lead on day one and never looked back. If you are a serious bass fisherman, you likely followed the tournament as I did and are aware that it took over a 5 pound average fish to win...wow!!
We dropped the boat off at Lyback’s Marine on Friday morning with plans to do some shopping in the area and pick it back up on Saturday.
Saturday arrived and the boat was all finished up and looked great. I can’t exaggerate the level of service and expertise provided by Eddy and his crew; if you ever find yourself in need of service in the Mille Lacs area, I would highly recommend paying them a visit and they are even open 7 days a week.
Since the trip was planned in advance, I did some prior research and scoured the Navionics App in search of a suitable starting point to fish. I anticipated that the fish would be very close to spawning, so I looked for large flats with cobble rocks and gravel adjacent to deep water. It appeared that I would not have to travel far as Isle Bay itself appeared to offer everything I was looking for.
Additionally, I ensured that the mapping chip that I was running would be adequate. I run the Lowrance Insight Pro Version 16 and the coverage on Mille Lacs appeared to be very good.
Acting on local advice, we booked a room at McQuoid’s Inn and would launch immediately South off Hwy 47. Arriving at McQuoid’s, it was obviously popular among fisherman judging by the number of boats in the lot. I was impressed with the accommodations, which offered a large lot with electricity for plugging in at the end of the day.
One thing to bear in mind when travelling somewhere new, is to remember that the only thing fishermen like to do more than actually fish is to talk about it. I spoke with a couple fishermen who seemed to be glowing from their morning on the water. Asking for spots is a big no-no, but I was able to learn that some bass were still pre-spawn and fish were being caught on jerkbaits and marabou jigs. So I knew there was a concentration of fish shallow and the rest was up to me.
When we launched at 2:00 pm, the skies were mostly clear, lake was like glass and air temperature was right around 90F, in a nutshell, it was hot. During the afternoon, the skies eventually cleared and the wind gradually picked up to 5-10 mph out of the West.
Water temperatures were in the mid to upper 60’s, reaffirming my belief that some fish would be spawning on beds.
I immediately noticed how clear the water was and was hopeful that sight fishing would come into the picture.
We slowly cruised the shoreline out of Isle Bay looking for a large flat with gravel/small cobble with a slow taper into deep water. It did not take long to find what we were looking for and as an added bonus, there were several rock/sand transitions and docks in the area. The trolling motor was dropped and we eased along the shore in 5-7 feet of water. I fan cast a Rapala X-Rap in Clown color, searching for any sign of activity.
I like to throw jerkbaits on a 6 foot medium spinning rod with fast action and run 12 pound hi-vis braid to an 8 pound flouro leader. I find the spinning gear combined with braid allows me to give the bait a very erratic action, that drive smallies wild.
It didn’t take long before I hooked up with a small bass on the X-rap, which came off the shady side of a dock. The very next cast to the same area, I gave the jerkbait a couple twitches, only to see the line jump about a foot on the pause. I reeled up the slack, set the hook and immediately felt the weight. I hollered to my wife to grab the net as I knew I hooked into a biggen. The fish measured 20 inches and over 4 pounds.
We continued on using a one-two punch, using the jerkbait for active fish and marabou jig for followers. Several fish were caught off nearly every isolated piece of cover including boulders, docks, waterlines and boat launches. I can’t count how many fish we saw cruising the flats and we even had the opportunity to see some really big bass on beds. One particular bed had 2 huge smallies on it swimming in tight circles...we put the rods down and slowly idled by leaving them be.
The jerkbait bite slowed, however, we continued to see several big fish. We threw the kitchen sink at these fish with no success. I’ve never seen a smallmouth snub a 1/32 oz marabou jig so badly before so I was stumped. The fish were acting really skittish and it finally dawned on me what was going on, once I stepped back and thought for a moment.
It was Saturday and the weather could not have been better. There were probably 30 bass boats within sight on nearly every point, rockpile and flat. Additionally, there were other boaters and jet skiers enjoying the day...how many baits have these fish seen today??
The first bait I thought of was the Ned Rig. I dug out a black 3/32 oz mushroom jig and tipped it with a 2 inch piece of Northland Impulse Dipstick. Downsizing to The Ned Rig for these pressured fish turned out to be the deal; we sight fished many big bass cruising the flats and relating to large rocks. The highlight of the day was when we returned to a large boulder that we found earlier in the day. The boulder was holding a Mille Lacs giant that denied my previous offerings. I flipped the Ned Rig to the shadow of the boulder and immediately felt the “tick”. I set the hook and was rewarded with a beautiful bass.
A trip to Mille Lacs would not have been complete without at least one walleye and we were lucky enough to catch a nice 24 incher while dragging a marabou jig between spots.
At the end of the day, my wife and I were giddy with the experience and wanted to cap off the night with a nice meal. Da Boathouse came highly recommended and we enjoyed prime rib with all the fixings right on the shore of Mille Lacs. Having the sun set while eating a great meal and reminiscing of the day’s memories seemed only appropriate.
There is no doubt that this Canadian boy will be returning to the Big Pond and look forward to returning with my family. I can’t overstate the hospitality of everyone we ran into from Lybacks Marine, staff at McQuoid’s, Da Boathouse and everyone in between.
I can only hope that my American friends enjoy visiting my home as much as I enjoyed visiting theirs!!
Play safe and see you on the water,