Catching Monster Fish: Part 2

One of my favorite fishing stories involves a group of young boys who went to a South Dakota stock dam and ended up catching a state-record largemouth bass. When asked what they used for bait, the boys said, “stinging worms.”

Those stinging worms, as it turned out, were baby rattlesnakes. My old friend Mort Bank of Bismarck, N.D., caught a 43-pound world line-class record muskie while walleye fishing in the Mississippi River. And one of the biggest walleyes ever caught was taken by a crappie fisherman using light line and a tiny jig.

Babe Winkelman and a Gunisao Lake walleye.

These stories — and dozens more like them — illustrate a couple important points for hawg hunters. First, off-the-wall techniques often produce trophy catches. And second, you never know when the big one will hit so you better be ready.

Mort wasn’t expecting to battle a huge muskie on 6-pound-test line that chilly fall day on the Mississippi, but because he’s a skilled angler and was using good equipment, he was able to battle that big fish for several hours and eventually land it.

Get The Best Equipment You Can
If I had a dollar for every story about “the big one that got away,” I could retire in style. Each year literally tens of thousands of once-in-a-lifetime fish get away because of a broken line, a sticky drag, or a panicked net man.

That’s why I use the best equipment I can afford and keep that equipment in good working order. Even when I’m using ultra-light gear, the line I’m fishing is fresh and the knots carefully tied and checked. The reels I use have a smooth drag system and won’t freeze up when I need it most. And when I tie into a big fish, I always coach my net man and try to keep everyone in the boat calm.

Most anglers only get a few cracks at a trophy fish. Wise anglers don’t waste those rare opportunities by fishing with bargain-basement line or a reel that doesn’t perform. Using quality gear won’t guarantee you’ll hook a trophy fish, but it sure comes in handy when it’s time to land one.

The final ingredient in the recipe for big fish is presentation. There’s a lake in my backyard that — on any given year — produces some big walleyes in the spring and fall. It’s also a good bass fishery. But not many anglers realize that this lake holds some trophy northern pike. One who does consistently catches pike from 15 pounds to over 20 pounds, and he does it in the dead of summer.

His secret: First, he fishes an area where few others try — a shallow, weed-infested bay. The second thing he does is to speed-troll over-sized crankbaits along the outside edge of the weeds. He understands that big pike hang around weeds for the forage opportunities. He also knows big pike prefer big meals, and he capitalizes on the ferocious fish’s aggressive personality.

A big “toothy” prowling the outside edge of the weeds in search of a 2-pound sucker has a tough time resisting a 10-inch crankbait moving through the water at 3 mph or 4 mph.

Find The Preferred Forage
Catching trophies from any body of water requires that approach. First, you have to discover where the big fish are hiding, and that means finding their preferred forage. Second, you have to give them what they want, which at most times of year is a big bait or lure.

Here’s another very important tip. When moving in to cast for big fish of any species, always shut down the big motor well before arriving at the spot and use your electric motor to get into position. Start by making long casts to the spot, and avoid getting too close with the boat. Big fish tend to be spooky. Use long, fast-tipped rods to make long casts.

When trolling for big fish, let out as much line as possible without altering the action of the lure. A big fish may swim off to the side of the boat when it passes, but it usually will resume feeding by the time your long-lined lure reaches the spot.

In summer and fall, use big baits. Once, while fishing a popular Midwestern reservoir in fall, my partner and I landed a dozen trophy walleyes while a group of top local guides were struggling to take a couple. The difference was that we had 8-inch and 10-inch redtails for bait; the locals only had smaller sucker minnows at their disposal.

On many bodies of water, night fishing produces the biggest catches. Be sure to check out the bite at dawn, dusk, and even in the middle of the night.

Weather conditions also can be a key factor. The biggest fish in any body of water tend to be most active and accessible when conditions are the worst for fishing. A big wind that kicks up nasty waves often triggers a strong response from trophy fish. If you have a big enough boat and are comfortable handling that boat in rough conditions, always check out the windy side of the lake during a nasty blow.

For a fine assortment of Freshwater fishing gear, click here.

Editor’s Note: Babe has shared his love of the outdoors with TV viewers for more than 25 years. Babe will share his tips and outdoor adventures weekly on In 1984, Babe’s “Good Fishing” program debuted and later his “Outdoor Secrets” show became popular with hunting enthusiasts. Babe’s programs appear on the Outdoor Life Network, WGN, Fox Sports Net, Fox College Sports, The Men’s Channel, Sportsman’s Channel, Great American Country, WILD TV, and Comcast. Babe also writes hunting, fishing and conservation columns that are carried by up to 350 newspapers each week. Winkelman sponsors include Chevrolet, Miller High Life, Johnsonville Brats, Crestliner Boats, St. Croix Rods, Browning, Hunter’s Specialties, Nikon, Minn Kota, Optima Batteries, Mathews, Honda, and many more.

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