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Lunker largemouths are low-light feeders. Daytime boat traffic and angling pressure can move them into the quiet of the darkness. As they move up into the shallow water after nightfall, they're susceptible to anglers
Use small topwater baits that gurgle and pop. A dark belly on the bait will allow bass to easily see it against the moonlit sky. Cast quietly up along docks, lily pads, weed edges and emergent vegetation like cattails and water rice.
Look for white bass charging into schools of shad on the surface. Shad will skip across the water's surface in an effort to escape, sometimes only to be picked off by sea gulls. If you spots gulls hovering around the water's surface, cast a small spinner or crankbait into the fray and hold on. Catching a fish on every cast isn't unrealistic and you can find some lunker whites using this method.
The same holds true for pure stripers and hybrid striped bass. Shad will panic at the surface where they've been herded by the predators and be a dead giveaway of feeding fish below.
Lunker fish on the Great Lakes are distributed over miles of water during the summer but begin congregating in the warmth of warm-water discharges when the temperatures dip.
Target the warm-water discharges on the Great Lakes during the winter months for big lake trout, salmon, steelhead and brown trout. As the preyfish congregate in the warmer water, so will the predators. You may find some lunker walleyes and smallmouth bass up in the warm water to feed on the minnows right along with the big salmon and trout.
Fish that have been caught before and lived to tell about it have become more cautious and less likely to strike traditional baits. Use a lure that is a little different and smaller than the baits other anglers are using.
Older fish are looking for something to eat in which they don't have to expend a lot of energy so try a slower retrieve or troll at slower speeds. Age slows a fish down just like it does the angler.
Photographs will provide the perfect record of your catch. Lunker fish are rare and a good picture will preserve the memory.
Have a fishing partner take several photos in case some don't turn out. You won't want to keep the fish out of the water for more than a minute or so if you're going to release it, so shoot fast. Look at the fish as well as the photographer and hold the fish up and away from you so that both fish and angler are in the shots. Wipe away any blood and dirt from the lunker, let the bait it was taken on hang visibly from its mouth and avoid a cluttered background.
At times, walleyes prefer large baits, 4- to 6-inches being about right. Trophy-class walleyes occasionally prefer a single course over having to chase down several tidbits. Minnow-imitating balsa lures and long, slender crankbaits are standard fare when walleyes are in the mood. Typical trolling and casting patterns along deep rocks or weed edges can put a trophy-class fish on the line.
Lunker northern pike can be caught on a jig with a large plastic trailer. A half- to one-ounce jighead with a 4- to 6-inch plastic shad body, lizard or grub just might take the biggest pike in the lake.
Fish along deep weed edges, old creek channels and submerged points and islands. Move the jig along by hopping motions without letting it hit the lake bottom or, in cold weather, let it rest on the lake bottom for a few moments before resuming the slow, rhythmic motion.
Another way to catch trophy-class pike on soft plastics is to rip it quickly through weeds as though it were a panicked baitfish. At times this will trigger a strike when slower movements won't.
The big male bluegills that most would consider lunker-class fish are notoriously hard to find.
The spawn is the best time to catch these elusive fish. Most bluegill nests aren't any deeper than four feet deep. Cast a small jig with a soft plastic trailer and drag it through the nests. Aggressive males will attack without hesitation. Bedding bluegills will also take flies that land above them.
Bluegills nest in the early spring. Their beds are often seen along the shallow shoreline on sand and gravel bottom.
Large blue and flathead catfish are deep-water denizens of the lakes and rivers they live in. Look for them in the deep holes, rocky drop-offs and tangles of fallen trees and current-swept logs and debris. Larger channel cats are more apt to blend in with the smaller fish and can be taken on shallow flats during the night and offshore in bottom contour changes, old creek beds and on woody or vegetation breaks during the day.
Reservoirs can mean great catfishing but the thermocline limits how deep the fish can be. When the cold, deeper water is depleted of oxygen the catfish will be right above it in the warmer, well-oxygenated water. They will be along the bank in rocky or woody cover. River conditions provide lots of oxygen all the way to the bottom where lunker catfish like to hide.
Search hard for big catfish on deeper shorelines when the weather is hot and a thermocline has probably formed. On rivers, fish the deep holes.
Big muskies are very cautious. They can be taken on smaller crankbaits that look like an easy-to-catch snack when fishing pressure is heavy. At times muskies prefer bigger prey over the hard-to-catch smaller creatures that provide limited benefit when compared to the energy expended to chase them down.
Big muskies will respond negatively to noisy boat motors and the array of artificial baits that daytime anglers throw at them. Lunker-class fish will often adopt a night-feeding schedule on busy lakes to avoid the hustle and bustle of the traffic. Use noisy topwater baits or slow-rolled spinnerbaits fished on the surface to attract savage strikes.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|