The Lakeland area contains one of the largest, most diverse collections of freshwater lakes in the world: small, shallow, dark water lakes; large, crystal-clear ones; wood-choked flowages and rivers, as well as everything in between. As a guide, I have learned most of the good ones over the past four decades, and as you might imagine, I have developed techniques that help me produce fish on all types of water. While many of the tactics that I use are common knowledge among most guides, some are unique to my own little bag of tricks, my own “secret weapons”. Hopefully, they’ll not only help make your fishing vacation a success but give you some ideas to try on your own waters back home.
First, let me tell you about one of my favorite secret tactics that I use for one our most sought after game fish, the elusive Walleye. Most Walleye fishermen are familiar with the standard, more commonly used presentations like Jig and live bait, Lindy Rigs, and Slip-bobbers. These work great once you’ve found active fish, but the main key to catching Walleye is location. First you have to find them. Once you find them, then you can usually catch them! While Jig and live bait is a great way to accomplish this task, during the warmer water periods I use a presentation that’s a lot better at covering water quickly, plus a lot more fun! My favorite tool for this job is the Rat-L-Trap! These are hands-down one of deadliest lures in my tackle box. Anyone who has fished with me will tell you that I own hundreds of these rattling, lipless Crankbaits. For the past 25 years, Rat-L-Traps have been my number one search bait for locating active Walleye. I work them fairly fast, enough to keep them out of the weeds, and I try to cover as much water as I can until someone cracks a Walleye. Then I’ll slow down and fish that area using more delicate, conventional techniques. Walleye have an undeserved reputation for being spooky, finicky biters, but these fish are apex predators. Trust me - Walleye will “streak” to hit these baits! Walleye aren’t the only fish that love Rat-L-Traps. I can’t count the number of Musky, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Perch and even Bluegill that my clients catch every year on these awesome lures. Believe me; Rat-L-Traps catch everything!
Now, as you can probably guess, some colors and sizes work better than others. Although all of them catch fish, the number one producer, in my boat, is the green fire tiger pattern in the 1/2oz. and 3/4oz. sizes. Close runners-up are ones in some kind of orange or red crayfish pattern which are particularly deadly on dark water lakes and flowages. Remember to work these baits fairly fast, keep them moving and cover a lot of water. On lakes that contain Musky and Northern Pike, you’ll also need to use a thin, dark-colored wire leader to prevent bite-offs. I make my own, but there are a few on the market that will work just fine. Just remember to buy the finest, least conspicuous ones you can get your hands on. Have some Rat-L-Traps in your tackle box when you come up north and I guarantee that you’ll catch fish! One last note on Walleye fishing is regarding the Jig and live bait combo. Here’s a little guide secret: almost every guide, including myself, uses glow Jigs when fishing for Walleye. I’m rigged with chartreuse glow Jigs 75% of the time! My second choice is green chartreuse, or hot orange on the flowages. I’m not talking about night fishing either; they work great during all light conditions
Now, here’s a good tip for you Musky fishermen: We have a lot of really great Musky lakes here in Vilas and Oneida Counties, and as you can imagine, they receive a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. These fish see every kind of lure, in every different color that you can think of. I’m all for trying those “hot” new baits that spring up every season, but in heavily pressured waters the fish can become conditioned to the popular baits that everyone is throwing. I’ve found that some of those old baits that you haven’t thought about in years can really work wonders, especially on big fish. Think about how many Tallywackers some of these fish have seen. Grab that old river model Mudpuppy (a personal favorite) instead and give it a try. The fish don’t see them much, anymore, and they’re deadly. Try pitching those old Globes baits, a plain Black Suick, a Mepp’s black Giant Killer, or even a copper Spoon or a Pikie Minnow! These lures are now new to the fish and you’ll be amazed at how effective they can be. I use some of the old standbys all the time and do very well on them. Remember, all these lures caught some really big fish, back in the day, and continue to do so. I’m not saying "don't use your new toys,"; just give some of the oldies a try if you’re having a tough day. Also, be sure to fish the dawn and dusk periods. These light level changes are very important, for all species.
I hope these tips help you catch more fish on your trip to the Northwoods. Keep your hooks sharp, your line wet, and have a great vacation!