May 17, 2021
By Glenn Walker
Check out these Midwest waterways to find willing-to-strike bass.
THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI (MN, WI, IA, IL)
The Upper Mississippi River bordering Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois offers midwestern bass anglers some great shots at early-season bass. Begin with secondary channels leading from wintering holes to backwater sloughs. As water warms, look for hard cover that bass can hold behind as they set up to spawn in the rising current from spring rain and snowmelt. Vibrating jigs or swim jigs are great for covering water in a variety of cover and water depths.
OKOBOJI OPPORTUNITIES (IA)
West Okoboji Lake is full of rockpiles and flats, making it perfect habitat for spring smallmouths. Right after ice-out, fish are cruising the shallow flats and can be caught on jerkbaits, swimbaits and crankbaits. If the bite’s tough, slow down with a Ned Rig. Tim Price, the field promotions manager for Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics, likes using the LakeMaster map with 1-foot contours and Humminbird’s MEGA Side Imaging to help locate these prime smallmouth areas. Docks and the “canals” are popular spots, too, as the water warms up faster there. There are some big fish on the deep docks on Okoboji.
PRAIRIE POTHOLES (SD)
Spring bass fishing on South Dakota’s northeastern potholes can be quite good. Swimbaits and jerkbaits are solid presentations on shallow rock areas. Just be advised that wind and weather changes can heavily impact how fish react. Often, a couple of snaps on the jerkbait followed by pauses up to five seconds can trigger fish. Not moving the bait for that long is difficult, but smallmouths are curious and oftentimes following your bait. Casey Ehlert, a veteran on these waters, says this long pause gives fish time to swim up to the bait, sit and watch it and still have time to strike it.
WOLF/WINNEBAGO WILDNESS (WI)
Chris Wenzel, owner of Fremont Bait and Tackle, has seen water clarity improve on both the Wolf River and Lake Winnebago, but it’s the increase of shiners in the Wolf River that has really boosted fishing. On the Wolf, smallmouths hold tight to shore to escape current. A square-bill crankbait is a solid tool for locating fish. Once you find them, try a Texas-rigged plastic to catch multiple bass from behind a single current break.
On Winnebago, catch smallmouths on the edges of rockpiles with crankbaits or jerkbaits. Find largemouths around emergent vegetation, as that’s where bait will be. With both, once the bite gets going and fishing pressure starts mounting, slow down and fish a small jig.
ST. CLAIR SMALLIES (MI)
Bass Pro Tour pro Jonathon VanDam looks for isolated rockpiles in 6 to 12 feet of water. He chases down active bass with jerkbaits, swimbaits and a wobble head to locate active schools of bass. Then, if conditions get tough or fishing pressure is high, try traditional smallmouth offerings like a drop shot or tube for tight-lipped smallies.