Nearly every angler dreams of catching a trophy fish — one that’s large enough to hang over the fireplace mantel. I’m taking about a largemouth bass over 12 pounds, a walleye over 10 pounds, or a northern pike topping the 20-pound mark.
Unfortunately, most anglers never achieve their goal. The closest they come is a story about “the one that got away,” that monster they couldn’t get off the bottom, or broke them off at the boat.
If catching a really big fish — one so large that when telling of it later there’s no need to even lie — is your goal, there’s one basic fact to remember: To catch the big ones, you have to fish for the big ones. That means being in the right place at the right time, using the best presentation, and keeping your gear in tip-top shape.
In the 25 years we’ve been producing our “Good Fishing” television show, we’ve learned a few things about catching lunkers. Cynics often complain that outdoor television hosts catch so many big fish because they “cheat.” We’ve been accused of having teams of anglers “put up” the big fish we catch; or that scuba divers hook the fish on our lines.
I don’t know about other shows, but we catch our own fish. The reason we’re able to take bigger-than-average fish week after week is that we always put ourselves in the right place at the right time to catch trophies.
What Does It Take To Catch Lunkers?
In this two-part series, we’re going to examine what it takes to catch a lunker, regardless of species. In this first part, we’ll look at the “where-when” aspect of trophy hunting, and in Part 2 we’ll talk about the “how-what.”
For the last 10 years, we’ve had a staff person — a former outfitter — who does nothing but book our hunting and fishing trips. His job is to locate bodies of water that consistently produce big fish, and then narrow his search to the exact time of year when most of those fish are caught. That’s important.
As often as not, his efforts reveal a large, nutrient-rich body of water with lots of high-protein forage and little fishing pressure. A lot of walleye and pike fishermen believe Canadian waters have some magical ability to produce trophy fish. In truth, most Canadian lakes — especially the fly-in lakes — receive such modest fishing pressure that the fish have a better opportunity to reach trophy proportions.
A 10-pound or 12-pound walleye in northern Manitoba may be 15 years old and never been hooked. The vast majority of walleyes in most U.S. lakes are caught before they reach 2 pounds.
Our booking agent seeks out lakes with a proven track record for kicking out big fish. Each year he checks with the Canadian provinces and state wildlife agencies and requests whatever publications are available listing trophy catches for the previous year. Once in a while his research will reveal a diamond in the rough — an under-fished lake that biologists say has a strong population of over-sized fish.
When Are The Lunkers Caught?
Once he’s picked the lake he wants to visit, the next thing he does is examine when most of those fish are caught. Some waters produce the majority of their trophies in the spring; others kick out the big ones in fall.
Next, he’ll interview guides, outfitters, bait shop owners and top local anglers who may have further insights into the best time to fish.
But finding the right lake is only part of the challenge. Pinpointing big-fish hideouts can be the biggest challenge of all. About 10 years ago, we received an invitation from Jim Budd, owner of Budd’s Gunisao Lake Lodge in northeastern Manitoba, to head up a hawg-hunting expedition. Gunisao consistently leads the Manitoba Master Angler list in trophy walleyes, which is quite an accomplishment considering Budd’s is the only resort on the lake.
Most of Gunisao’s trophies were caught during the short spawning season. The native guides continued to put up lots of 2-pounders to 5-pounders during the summer season, but the trophies mysteriously vanished. Jim invited six of my staff members to spend a week searching for those 10-pound and bigger fish during July.
Lunkers In Deep Water
It didn’t take long to figure out where not to look for big fish — the guides were beating the shallow, rocky shorelines of several big bays to a froth. That left the deeper main-lake structures.
After several days of searching, we uncovered a solid pattern — the big fish were hanging on sharp breaking rock structures in 30 feet to 55 feet of water. We systematically worked the lake looking for shallow rock piles surrounded by deep water, and in the process caught more 30-inch to 35-inch walleyes than most anglers will see in a lifetime.
If you’re interested in the trophy trip of a lifetime, you might want to do what we do, and contact our booking agent — Dream Trips. You can reach Dream Trips by writing to Box 407, Brainerd, MN, 56401, or by calling 1-877-258-2767.
Please read the “how-what” aspects of catching big fish in Part 2.
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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 sportsmansguide.com. 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.