September 30, 2010
Most of our very best fishing for largemouth bass takes place under the cover of darkness, especially on these lakes.
By Tim Lesmeister
The sun always seems to hang in the sky forever during the day, but when it hits that horizon line, it's gone in a few short minutes.
Such was the case as Paul Neuman, a highly competitive professional angler, and I motored through the narrow channel into Carmens Bay on Lake Minnetonka. While watching the sunset in front of us turn the flat blue surface of the water to a golden hue, Neuman commented, "It's going to get dark tonight without a moon, and that should work in our favor. There won't be many boats on the water tonight."
He was right. Every point where we stopped off, it was just the two of us. Occasionally a big cruiser would motor by, but these boats were going from Point A to Point B and didn't affect Neuman's program. He would control the boat with his bow-mount electric motor to slowly creep up one side of a point and down the other, skillfully casting to every nook and cranny, straining every inch of the rocks those jigs crawled over.
Neuman is a bass-catching machine at night. He would let the 1/2-ounce live-rubber jig that was tipped with a scented-plastic trailer sink all the way to the bottom and then slowly raise the rod tip. When the rod tip reached a point about 60 degrees to the waterline, he would drop the tip, reel in the slack and begin the slow rise again. The big leadhead jig would slowly bump and grind around the cobblestone and rubble on the deep edge of the points until he would feel something that tipped him off to a bass inhaling the jig. When he felt that telltale tap he rapidly dropped the tip, reeled in the slack and would rear back hard to set the hook.
There were some tough battles that night because the big largemouths weren't prone to head shaking on the surface. Instead, those largemouths would bulldog toward deeper water, forcing us to play them all the way to the boat.
"These big bass are obviously feeding on crayfish in the rocks," said Neuman. "The jig with the trailer resembles what they're feeding on, so when you find them, you won't be short of bites."
As the sunset turns Lake Minnetonka's surface to a golden hue, Paul Neuman has just begun to formulate his plan for a night of largemouth bass fishing. Photo by Tim Lesmeister
Not every spot held fish. Those that did had largemouths concentrated on small sections, so when a fish was caught, Neuman would key on that spot and cast to it multiple times in hopes of generating more bites. Often, that happened.
"You only want to cover ground when you're searching for that productive spot," said Neuman. "When you find it, hang in there and catch all the fish there. These bass are feeding, so if they're there, don't keep moving. Work that spot until you catch all the bass that are there."
Night-fishing for largemouth bass is productive, but few anglers find themselves on the water after the sun goes down. By those who take to the water at night, this situation is considered to be to their advantage, since it means little competition for the fish that have adapted their schedules and are actively feeding then.
"It's their loss," Neuman says, "because when the big bass are on a night bite, that's when I get to enjoy some of the best bass fishing of the year."
Let's look at some lakes that are outstanding options for bass fishing after dark and what to do to catch big fish.
Clearwater, just north of Annandale, has long been a favorite of nighttime bass anglers because of the large numbers of big largemouths there. Sunken islands, long tapering points and big beds of milfoil provide ample staging areas for bass, and when the sun goes down, these spots become highly active as bass feed on the crayfish and schools of minnows.
The boat landing is on the northwest end, so it's a short run to the long point that extends off the big island just south of the access. The tip of this point is a great place to start.
Focus on water in the 18- to 20-foot depth range and use a 3/4-ounce jig tipped with a scented plastic craw-body. The jig should be allowed to settle to the bottom, and a slow dragging/hopping retrieve is all that's necessary. Occasionally the jig will hang up on a stalk of milfoil or coontail. When this happens, just ease it around the vegetation and continue the retrieve.
When you have exhausted all the fish on this point, head toward the narrows between basins. Underwater points are numerous in Clearwater, so just pick one and work it thoroughly with the jig. Bass over 5 pounds are not uncommon when night-fishing on this phenomenal night-fishery.
For more information, contact the Lake Center Store at (320) 274-3943.
BIG MARINE LAKE
Big Marine in Washington County is a good bass lake. After departing the boat landing, head straight for the center of the main basin. There are two humps there that get a lot of day-fishing pressure, so the bass on this structure tend to begin their feeding frenzy between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. The vegetation between the tops of the sunken islands down to about 12 feet deep is thick, so working a lure there at night can lead to a frustrating fishing excursion.
Jigs work well in depths over 12 feet, but a secret weapon can be the deep-diving suspending crankbait in 16 feet of water. Big bass are rooting around in the bottom at night, but they are also aware of the potential for a baitfish to enter their zone. When the silhouetted profile of a suspending crankbait enters their view and sits over their head, these feeding fish won't hesitate to crush it.
There are also some productive points between the main basin and the east basin right where it narrows down. With quality structure being such an important factor when night-fishing for largemouths, the northern basin typically gets ignored after the sun goes down.
For more information call, Frankies Live Bait at (651) 257-6334.
There are a lot of largemouth bass in Lobster Lake, just west of Alexandria. It's a great lake to be on when the sun goes down and the full moon is out.
There's nothing like twitching a topwater lure over a bed of cabbage and coontail or right next to a big expanse of cattails and watching the water explode underneath it - especially when this happens at night.
The south side of Lobster Lake has some shallow bays where the vegetation creates a nice ambush point for bass searching for small bluegills that make the mistake of showing themselves. And when a frog or an injured minnow is quivering on the surface, that's also a call to supper for a big largemouth.
Any topwater lure that can be left to sit and occasionally twitched can be productive at night. It's the fast-moving topwater buzzers that move too quickly past the fish that should be left in the box. A floating minnow imitator or those floating frogs are all good candidates on Lobster when chasing big bass in the shallow vegetation.
For more information, call Christophersons Bait at (320) 763-3255.
LITTLE McDONALD LAKE
Little McDonald Lake, just west of Perham in Otter Tail County, is deep and clear, and gets a pretty fair share of fishing pressure, but those anglers on the water are usually chasing walleyes. The largemouths in this lake, and there are plenty of them, are easy pickings after the sun goes down.
From the boat landing on the south side of the lake just move west into the bulrush beds and you're there. You probably won't even need to fire up the big motor.
When fishing bulrush beds at night you will have a big advantage when the moon is full and you can see where you're casting. It's the edge of the bulrush that you target. Use floating frogs and shallow-diving floating crankbaits to strain the outer edge of this emergent vegetation. The largemouths prowl that edge at night, and when a tasty-looking topwater lure shows up in their feeding zone, you can count on catching a lot of fish.
For more information, call Gene's Sport Shop at (218) 346-3355.
While Lake Hubert - which is one of the popular fishing lakes in the Brainerd area - might only have a few small sunken islands for midlake structure, there's a lot of bulrush, and where the submerged vegetation is found, the weedline is distinct.
Anglers will discover the northeast part of the lake to be to their liking when it comes to chasing largemouth bass at night. The bulrush beds are a great place to start because that's where the bass in this lake like to prowl for food after the daytime boat traffic dwindles.
The weedline on this lake should also be considered if it's big bass you seek. Where the coontail ends in about 14 feet, there is a distinct transition line. This is a perfect spot to hop-and-pop a 1/4-ounce standup jighead tipped with a 3-inch scented grub tail. You cannot be off this transition line by much. If you're not occasionally hanging up the lure on some sparse vegetation, you're too far out.
For more information, contact Nisswa Bait at Lake-N-River at (218) 829-0987.
Typically a great lake for night bass fishing is big, deep and clear. That doesn't hold true for Aitkin County's Sissabagamah, but one thing this lake has is good cover, a lot of largemouth bass and an active night bite. Who knows why? And does it really matter? What matters is that there is a fishery that's ignored that, when given some attention, stands out as a leader in its class.
The shoreline of "Sissy" is littered with productive bulrush. This is where the bulk of the quality night-fishing can be found. There is also a long bulrush point on the west side that extends out toward a steep rise in the bottom, and this creates a deeper saddle that can be a productive hotspot for big bass.
There is little doubt that an angler who takes to the water with some jigs and topwater lures will be have no competition for the plentiful bass in this lake. Since "Sissy" is only a few hundred acres, one night on the water will allow an angler to cover all the best locations.
For more information, contact Aitkin Bait and Tackle at (218) 927-1933.
WHITE BEAR LAKE
There are a lot of big bass in White Bear Lake, but there is also a lot of fishing pressure and recreational boat traffic. These conditions often produce a night-bite situation, which means that most of those big largemouths in the lake aren't biting when there are anglers on the water. Many of the biggest bass that are caught on White Bear are the products of anglers who chose to chase this species after dark.
You may be hard pressed to find a productive point when night-fishing bass on White Bear, but there are plenty of milfoil-topped sunken islands and reefs, and all hold a lot of big largemouths.
The technique for this lake consists of a shallow-diving crankbait slowly retrieved over the top of the vegetation, for starters. Bass that are in the milfoil won't be shy about leaving the cover to crush a crankbait that is wobbling over their head.
If the largemouths aren't near the surface, then a heavy jig with a plastic trailer should be pitched to the weedline, which is about 12 to 14 feet deep. Huge bass will be patrolling the edge of the vegetation at night, and this crayfish imitator will elicit bites from these 18- to 22-inch fish.
For more information, contact Bald Eagle Sports at (651) 429-9954.
One would think that Itasca County's Bass Lake would be a fitting name for this long, narrow body of water just to the north of Cohasset, but the lake gets very little pressure in the way of bass fishing, which leaves the resource basically untouched.
The two basins are split by a shallow narrows, which leaves the northern basin prone to the bulk of the fishing pressure, which is mainly for walleyes and panfish. The southern basin has much in the way of vegetation, and this is where the bass anglers should devote their attention.
The water clarity is good on Bass Lake, which makes this body of water a good candidate for the night-angler. The weedline is deep, and the cabbage, coontail and pondweed creates great cover for the big bass there.
The top night technique on Bass Lake for largemouths is the shallow-diving floating crankbait. Use the narrow-bodied baits and a slow retrieve to keep the lure just a few feet below the surface.
For more information, contact Ben's Bait at (218) 326-8281.
Lake Minnetonka is No. 1 when it comes to milfoil production. Weed cutters employed by the lake association effectively destroy all the pads, cabbage, coontail and other aquatic plants. As far as some anglers are concerned, this condition has been advantageous in producing a steady supply of huge largemouths, but fishing pressure on this popular lake has also conditioned those fish and they can be very lure-shy. This conditioning doesn't seem like much of a factor at night.
According to Paul Neuman, my guide for a night of fishing on Minnetonka, "since there is little pressure at night, the bass seem intent on feeding, and you can catch a lot of big bass from a spot that won't produce in the day."
Neuman recommends getting out away from the milfoil and keying on the rocky transition lines where a point or a sunken island tapers into the depths.
"There's a lot of rockpiles on Minnetonka, and every one has big bass on them," he says. "At night those fish will bite."
For more information, contact Shoreline Bait and Tackle at (952) 471-7876.
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In asking other anglers about their night-fishing experiences I discovered that their reluctance to venture out after dark was due to inexperience more than anything else. There is a need for additional lighting equipment, and on a strange lake the thought of getting turned around in the dark was a factor. But like any new undertaking, a lack of experience seems to hinder people from active pursuit.
Sometimes what drives someone to try something new is the motivation of what rewards are present. Night-fishing for bass can be a truly rewarding experience, so muster the motivation to try it and you might find yourself sleeping in late in the morning after a night of chasing largemouths.
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