By: Bob Bohland
We have all had a great fishing spot ruined. Whether it is from a mouthy friend who likes to brag, someone else finding your spot, or just dumb luck by a few locals. There isn’t much you can do other than fish with the rest of the crowd (which can amount to torture to me) or find a new honey hole. This can take a lot of work and, at least in my experience, a lot of failure before you hit pay dirt again. Many keep a log of lakes they have fished and what they have caught, sometimes even with pictures or GPS coordinates to remind them. Why keep old lakes that have gotten out in the back of your mind? Simple, because panfish, especially crappies can recover in lakes that have seen the limelight of internet forums, magazine articles, and TV shows, and can return to their once lost glory.
Alexandria, Mn area is
home to a lot of very productive lakes, but these lakes also see a lot of
pressure. Anglers in the area travel from hot lake to hot lake seemingly like
locusts, but for area guide Joe Scegura, it is all just part of the game. Like
a dealer at a 3-card Monte table, Joe always seems to pull another great
fishing spot from out of nowhere. His secret? “I always keep detailed logs of
where I have found good fishing, and in time go back to those notes to refind
Logs are a detailed part of any consistently successful angler’s tools. These can range from the more advanced, such as spreadsheets or Word documents, to something much more simple, “Heck, I keep notes on my calendars,” says Scegura, “Every time I get back from a trip, I write down conditions, what lakes I hit, and presentations that worked for me that day.” Another thing that many anglers do is to add GPS coordinates to their notes; this can help you track fish movement from season to season, and even from day to day. Since the weather in our area of the country isn’t exactly known to be consistent, water temperature data in your logs can really help pin down fish movement from year to year. Depending on the forage base available for fish, this recovery can happen in as little as 2-3 years, but in some lakes it can take up to 8-10 years. Detailed notes with dates that a lake is producing can help narrow down where you should fish. If you haven’t done so already, start keeping a fishing log, whether it be on your computer or handwritten, and be honest with yourself. If you exaggerate and write that you were catching 13” crappies, when in reality they were at best 11” you are only hurting yourself, this is where an accurate measuring tool such as a Fish Trough can help you keep accurate records. When you put a fish on the board, there is no ‘fudge factor’.
Another great source for filling the backlogs of your notes if you are just getting started is internet forums. There are a lot of great reports available, and they are updated every day, if not from hour to hour from a variety of sources. Doing a search a few years back on some of these forums can lead you to some very successful spots to try. The surprising thing with most anglers, especially the ones that follow the hot bite around, is that they have a very short memory. So by keeping a record of what the ‘flavor of the month’ is, you can have a great lake almost to yourself after the masses have forgotten about it.
“The funny thing is,” explains Scegura, “is that many times when fisherman think a lake is fished out, often the fish are just retreating to another spot on the body of water due to commotion. Lakes that produce year after year have places for these fish to retreat once the army of anglers arrives. They don’t have to be especially large lakes, but if they have a place to get away from the commotion and the pressure the fish will often survive the onslaught and can be caught in subsequent years” So you shouldn’t always assume that just because the fishing has slowed that the fish have all gone home to fill freezers. Often, they have simply moved due to the amount of pressure, and noise, which is created by a large amount of anglers congregated in an area for an extended period of time.
Joe conducts what he calls ‘spot-checks’ on lakes in his logs, “often I can gauge how hard a lake has been hit or how quickly it is recovering pretty quickly. It doesn’t take too long to dump the boat in a lake and hit a couple spots to see what the size structure is like before I head off to a new place.” By periodically checking his lakes, he is able to find out how hard the fish population was decimated and set a timeline for when the lake will start producing quality fish again for him to put his clients on. “Generally you are looking at a five to seven year turnaround for a lake that has been hit pretty hard; however lakes with those escape areas can recover a lot faster,” states Joe “but it really depends on the quality of the forage available to the fish. If the lake isn’t known for fast-growing panfish, it can take longer for them to recover. Conversely, a lake that is well known for producing bruiser panfish may recover much quicker due to a better forage base. I have also seen spots that anglers think the fish are gone, when in reality it is because there is just so much food available that they won’t bother with most presentations because they are full. This can happen from an insect hatch or even a boom in a minnow population.”
There are also lakes that are known for only providing good bites during certain times of the year, “Lake Osakis is one that really sticks out in my mind,” Joe explains, “No matter how hard it is hit, the lake only seems to produce numbers of quality fish at certain times of the year.” Other lakes can follow this pattern as well. One of my favorite lakes, (although, I am a bit biased since I have been fishing it since I was 5) only produces trophy caliber fish during early ice and spring. Though neither Joe nor I really understand why this happens, it is something you truly cannot avoid, “your best bet is still to look at your past logs and find out when the fish were biting, what they were biting on, and where.”
The next key for conducting spot-checks of your own lakes is your past water temperature logs. “Obviously lakes with darker water heat up faster after ice out, so temperature readings become vital for really tracking the fish,” adds Scegura, “even shallower bays with dark bottoms can really heat the water up more than the rest of a lake. So it pays to keep your temperature recordings according to location.” In darker waters it can be more difficult to conduct your spot-checks. This is when Joe uses a flashy presentation, “I like to throw something big and bright to really get their attention. I am trying to move through areas quickly to gauge the population and size structure, so a bait like the Lindy Watsit Spin or a Dancin’ Crappie Spin Jig really help get their attention and get them to commit. The sizes of these baits also lets me select for larger fish in the school and lets me know what the larger-sized fish population is like, which is what I am really after.”
Don’t give up on your old hotspots, these gems held great fish for you in the past and they are capable of doing the same in the future. Just don’t forget the lessons Joe Scegura has learned over many years of guiding in a populated area: 1.) A good memory or good logs are your best friend. Wait till the hype dies down about the bite and hit it again. Keep going out there and keep tabs on how the fish population is recovering. 2.) Know how good the forage is in the lakes you are fishing. The better the forage available, the quicker the fish will recover from heavy pressure. 3.) Keep it to yourself! A great panfish bite is harder and harder to come by these days. Going out and bragging to everyone in earshot about the great fishing you had on
will only end with the
demise of your bite. Lake
Joe Scegura's Guide Service offers guided fishing trips across Central Minnesota, primarily on
Alexandria area lakes, Mille Lacs Lake, and the northern part of the Mississippi
River. Joe can be reached through his website at