Lake Pepin Early Season Crankbait Report – 5/23/14

Water Body

The trolling bite on Lake Pepin is “just-about” ready to kick into full gear, as I found today while taking a few morning passes. Coming down-river, I knew that while the fishing might be good, it wouldn’t reach its fullest-potential as there wasn’t even the slightest ripple at the head of the lake. As James and I detailed here from nearly one year-to-date, the early Pepin crank bite needs some wind to really get it cooking. That said, I was pleasantly surprised with two distinct year classes of fish that kept taking turns coming to the back of the boat. There were plenty of smaller fish, but the good thing was that most of the “shorts” were 14” – just shy of the 15” mark. Even better, we caught nearly a dozen that were in the 19”-20” mark, though the big bite eluded us.

Need some more good news? As long as you were using the right baits and covering the right depths, color didn’t seem to matter as much, with most of the standards producing fish. Speaking of depths, that changed throughout the day with no wind to keep those fish up shallow crashing. I started out near the head of the lake with rod tips tickling the tree branches, literally trolling as shallow as I could. Even then, those breaks kept us consistently in 10-12 FOW. #7 shad raps here shined in colors Firetiger, Orange Craw, and even Purpledescent, about 125-150 feet behind the boat. Fish were trailing as several strikes came just after working a rod or banging bottom. #5’s and #6’s worked as well, but I was running at times nearly 200 feet of Sufix 832 20/6 braid just to get them down to where I wanted them. If the fish didn’t mind the bigger profile, I liked the better control I got with less line out. Water temps at the head of the lake varied early from 60-63 degrees.

As I worked my way down-lake, water temps got all the way up to 68 degrees, and fish were found on shallow flats. Here the #5’s really came into their own, allowing us to pull up against the willows in 6FOW by cranking up, and troll the remainder in 8-10FOW with about 125-140 feet of line back. Purpledescent came on later with the higher sun, but to be honest, we caught fish on yellow perch, firetiger, orange craw, bleeding blue shad, red craw, and about 3 other less notable colors. Today was more about putting the bait in the right place. Do that, and you’d get bit!

Want even more good news? Speed variations didn’t seem to make a pattern emerge either, meaning you could go anywhere from 2.2mph – 3.25mph and still get bit with equal regularity. We experimented with faster, and didn’t seem to get anyone interested past 3.25, but we did not try slower. As anglers, one of the most rewarding parts of fishing is solving the puzzle. Like any good science project, we hypothesize, test, adjust and then retest, carefully going through the long list of variables: speed, depth, color, location, cover, etc. Today was frustrating to me personally as no strong winning pattern seemed to emerge in my boat, but action was quite steady, bordering on good at certain times throughout the day. This had a strong deal to do with the lack of wind throughout the few hours I fished. No wind = no concentration of fish, and though scattered fish are what trolling is made for, this bite will really get cranking towards the end of the weekend where it looks like we’ll see both a drop in pressure and an increase in winds. So, for those thinking about fishing this weekend, the last forecast I checked looks to have these fish tee’d up and ready for you! Great to see everyone out there I met today, had fun knocking the rust off and getting ready for the best of what’s yet to come!



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Joel Nelson

From the big water of Chequamegon Bay in Northern Wisconsin, to the prairie ponds of the Ice Belt, to the streams of Yellowstone, Nelson has filled an enviable creel with experience, reeling in bluegills to lakers, walleyes to stream trout. Full Bio ›


  1. Thanks for the report Joel I am heading up to Lake City today after work for the rest of the weekend hopefully I will have some more pics to add here.

  2. thanks for the report Joel. Going to give it a shot this afternoon with a friend who hasnt been on the lake before so keeping it interesting is important. Thanks for shortening the learning curve for the day. Kudos!

  3. Well no monster walleyes for us this weekend but will did but manage a few 15″ walleyes & saugers and I did hear a few nice walleyes being boated this weekend anywhere from 16″ to 24″. I think the bite will only get better as we move into the month of June, we will be back at it next weekend. My wife Wendy did have a personal best this weekend with the biggest fish of her life this monster sheep head! The sheep head were on fire this weekend I could not keep them off my line, seems that the walleyes are not the only fish that like a number 7 shad rap in fire tiger.

  4. Ha! We tied into a few of those too, especially on turns when some of the inside lines slowed up. The fight is good!


  5. Nice shot! Looks like you got in there before it muddied up too bad. Looks like this weekend’s fishing might be tough!


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