Fish are snapping right now on Lake Pepin, but maybe not how and where you’d expect them to. A few big fish showed up, along with dozens of 16-19” fish, to make today a great numbers bite with some size! This time of year is a busy one in terms of bites. Several great ones are right around the corner, and with as much changing as the weather has been doing, so have the fish. As we headed down to fish Pool 4 today, I had a few patterns bouncing around in my brain, and certainly James had a few orders of magnitude more! There’s usually an off-the-breaks leadcore program going on in various places of the lake this time of year, but that can be a big-numbers, small-fish affair. Bay city flats and a host of other shallow areas throughout the lake and upper river will also kick out fish as water temps hover in that 60 degree-plus mark, but those bites can be sporadic and spread throughout the system; a little here….a little there. Concentrated groups of fish are much easier to target, especially when you haven’t been down there yet this spring as-is the case for James and I, so we took advantage of the conditions and what they offered us.
We launched at Colville and were surprised to see the water as high as it was when taking our first cruise into a few cuts and poking around in the back-channel. Certainly there was some good current and quite a bit of color to the water, so much so, that trolling current breaks in the way-back proved difficult. So we continued to make our way down-river towards and into Lake Pepin. A few passes in the usual shallower flats yielded few to no fish also. Water at the lake seemed high enough to flood some shoreline structure, but not enough to put the willows underwater in a big way. That willows bite was another I personally had been thinking about on the drive down. It’s been a few years, but when high-water persists into some of the warmer water temps of late-May and early-June, a lake-wide shallow willows bite exists. Gobs of bait push right up into the thin-stems, and during this pattern, you’re just as likely to get bit by a channel cat or a smallie as you are a big walleye. Every fish in the system realizes this for the bonanza that it is, and piles in to the buffet. Though today was not your traditional flooded willows bite, there was enough water to put fish close enough to these edges, and in high enough numbers to do quite well.
It’s no secret that a big blow on Pepin stacks fish into key locations, especially after several days out of the same direction. Whether throwing at the shore or trolling past it, good and steady wind will provide shoreline bites through much of the open water period, with spring and fall seeing the strongest bites. This spring has been a funny one, and water temps are just starting to creep to where they need to be in order to see a good bite turn into a prime one. Just on the cusp of those temps, today saw great wind (15mph) piling into those shallow flooded and adjacent rock areas, which really arranged fish in locations that made them vulnerable to our trolling offerings. In James’ words, “You can watch throughout the day as the wind breathes life into the bite.” I’ve fished conditions like this on P4 before, and done well. Pulling shallow past the sticks, until you found a great pod of fish to cast at, was always a great technique. While I had enjoyed good fishing here before, James added a new wrinkle that I’d never tried, which upped our numbers and size dramatically. Even better, we had few white bass or sheepshead to contend with.
On our first pass up against the thick-stuff, James immediately got on the kicker, snapping the throttle a few times. As if on-command, BAM, fish-on. From then-on, he detailed the makings of a great high-water, high-wind trolling bite which somewhat-surprisingly involved some pretty healthy speeds. Common thought on the river has trolling speeds for your average Shad-Rap baits somewhere around 2.5mph. The general idea most often is to drive around in likely locations, varying your speed between 2.2-2.8mph, and you’d eventually find that day’s sweet spot. That had been my experience too, most years in June pulling Jointed Shad Rap 5’s and 7’s for a bite that is yet to come. Not this bite. 3.0mph is the low-end, and today we caught fish as fast as 3.9mph when the wind was really kicking. It’s a big difference, not only in the way it turns the bite on, but also in the amount of water you can cover. It sounds negligible, but you’re putting that many more baits along several miles more of shoreline in a days-worth of trolling.
Most certainly, this bite involves some specialized conditions, but the iron is hot now! Incoming rain is pushing water levels up, and water temps are nearly where they need to be to kick this thing into high-gear. Add some wind and a few #5 Shad Raps to the equation, and you’re ready to put some big numbers AND big fish in the boat. It’s important to note that there is no magic shoreline, or secret spot. This bite is lake-wide, and highly dependent on wind-speed and wind-direction. You need to be fishing combinations of the right shoreline with good flooded cover and directly adjacent 6-10FOW, but that stretch NEEDS good wind. No wind, no fish, it’s as simple as that. We fished 4 rods today all with #5 Shad Raps in Perch, Orange Craw, and Firetiger, between 130 and 170 feet back. Those lengths put the baits in the right zone for us, with that Orange Craw being special. Doubles were common when the wind was pushing, and there was even a triple or two, to the point where it was very tough to run 4 rods while they were all going off. The fast action and big fish were nice, but more than anything, it was satisfying to learn more about a pattern I’ll continue to fish for years to come.