This is the final report of our 2018 fishing season here at the Wheel. We had just a few boats on the water last week, but came back up to our usual fall numbers for this final week and I’ve combined the two weeks into a final fishing report for our 2018 season.
The big weather story for us this week was the low temperatures. Air temps were low enough that lake surface temps dropped by 10 degrees over the last 10 days, and one memorable day the temperature difference between air and water was large enough we could see steam rising from the surface of the lake for most of the day. Really lets you see how much the surface temps are being affected.
Colder temps and some weather brought a big change in the walleye patterns from last week. Early in the week sand at both summer and transition depths held fish in good numbers, but the weather change moved them back to an aggressive bite and later in the week transition and even shallow rock structures held our best bites. Even with a more aggressive bite the walleye did not answer well to plastics and our guides kept their anglers working with light jigs and live bait most of the time. Guide sheet averages were back up to more than 25 fish over 18 inches a day, and a few great days stood out where anglers boated more than 75 fish over 18 inches. The great bites and most of our big fish came out of transition depths or even shallower, more than a few big fish were caught out of less than 10 feet this week.
Our guided days were about evenly split between hunting big pike and walleye fishing, a total of 35 guided days for the week. The fifteen days dedicated to walleye produced 14 fish over 27 inches with the biggest a 29. The northern hunting days boated 21 over 37 inches with five over 40 inches and two extremely heavy fish, a 40 and a 42 incher caught by one of our guests of long standing, Ed Rosenow.
The end of a season here at Silver Water Wheel Lodge always makes me look back at the year’s fishing and try to find trends and patterns that were different or made this year stand out from the others. I put that question to our guide staff at our last few nightly ‘round table’ meetings, and the first thing everyone brought up was the jump in big walleye this season. We haven’t finished compiling our statistics yet, but from our rough count we are up to 79 Walleye over 29 inches for the year, a significant increase from the last couple years. And of those big fish a greater proportion than usual were fish over 30 inches as well.
This central section of Lac Seul has two key ingredients that we think are responsible for the great summer fishing we see here. Wide open basins, and in the middle of those basins some huge sand structures that every year produce great fish for us. These big structures are ideal for pulling big plastics at speed and this is an effective and exciting way of catching walleye. Guides and guest often love it when we can target fish this way, and this worked well through early and mid summer and a lot of our best days in late June and July this year were ‘gulp on sand days’. As we progressed to late summer and fall the walleye moved to rock structures and stayed there. Lots of years there are weeks here and there when the walleye are on rock, but this year was exceptional. Our best bites in terms of both numbers and size were almost exclusively on rock structures for most of August and September.
The early and late season were both good northern pike times, with lots of big fish caught in our favorite spots and favorite ways. But there was a stretch in mid summer when the big pike left their usual patterns and did something different. For a few weeks, it was the exception rather than the rule to find a trophy fish in the main lake summertime weed beds that usually produce so many of our big pike. At the same time our guide staff were remarking on how rare it had become for us to catch big pike on jigs or following or T-boning a walleye. Every year there is a period where the big fish leave the weed beds, but we always find them deep while walleye fishing when they do. This year, in mid summer they weren’t shallow or deep. When the big northern weren’t answering to the usual patterns most of our anglers went after walleye instead, but occasionally during this stretch a boat with determined pike fisherman was able to succeed by focusing on mid-depth rock. I don’t think we produced this way often enough to be sure it was what the trophy pike were doing, but it is a new possible pattern we will be watching for in the future.
As a fishing guide with a few years behind me now, the changes that Lac Seul throws at us every day, every week, and every year are what makes each new season a different challenge. That challenge is what keeps me coming back to see what answers – what new tactics, presentations, or locations will produce great fish over the course of the season. I think that’s what makes fishing Lac Seul interesting and fun for anglers and guides every day, every month, and every year.
Hope to see you all at ‘the Wheel’ next season!
Lots of weather changes and winds from all points of the compass this week, add in some major thunderstorms and the best we can say is the weather was changeable. There were also two days where we lost fishing time to those thunderstorms, and that kind of weather made walleye hard to pattern over the course of the week. A lot of our guides responded to the unpredictable conditions by encouraging their guests to switch things up and take advantage of this prime week for trophy northern.
We love to hunt for big pike this time of year and our guide staff took every opportunity the weather and our anglers gave them to chase northern. We found big fish mostly one stage deeper on rock during grey and windy days, and it took the right baits and knowledge of how to present them to consistently produce good fish off these structures. Our catch locations quickly moved to the remaining weed patches and the successful presentations shifted back to classic baits as soon as the weather settled into something steady. The pike shifted back and forth between rock and weeds a few times over the course of the week – and sometimes over the course of a day – as conditions changed, and production for big fish came when our boats were checking different kinds of structure all throughout each day.
As for the walleye, they were a struggle this week overall. The bright spots were an increase in sheet volume at end of week and quality walleye returning to the main lake sand structures that have produced so well for us over the years.
With a smaller staff this time of year we recorded only 49 guided days this week, and half of them had their main focus on trophy northern. For the week we caught and released 25 northern over 37 inches, with 6 over 40 inches, and topping out with a great looking 42.5 incher. Looking back at the nightly reports this week a couple of our senior guide staff noted the number of super-giants out there that were moved and seen but not hooked up.
Another interesting note was an increasing trend of big bass caught off deep rock piles. Numbers were few, but size was consistently good with 6 fish over 19 inches for the week. The bass made a nice alternative for those anglers not interested in pursuing pike.
This week gave us mainly stable weather, but unstable fishing. There were a few days with thunder storms rolling around, but no major weather shifts. We mostly got steadily cooler day temperatures and even cooler nights throughout the week. Looking back, we can see a gradual shift in the walleye patterns that tracked with the changing temps. Over the course of the week there was a steady change of depths and locations where our fish were caught. Early in the week most of our volume came from our summer locations and at summer depths. As the week went on some fish were caught at transition depths, but at or near the summer spots where they were the week before. By the end of the week boats were reporting steady numbers and some good size at many of our favorite fall transition locations.
In previous spring and fall transition times, big weather events like the cold fronts we had last week often signalled a big change in walleye patterns. I expected the same this year and thought the fronts last week would move the walleye directly into transition patterns. My boat devoted a lot of time this week to searching for that bite at some of our best fall transition spots, but the transition bite did not really get started until the very end of the week. This fall the walleye eased in to their transition spots with the gradual temp changes instead of jumping straight to them after the big fronts.
That gradual change in the walleye’s behaviour meant that the fish were spread out between summer spots, fall transition spots, and a lot of places and depths in between. Our numbers of big walleye caught this week are partly a result of this pattern, but also reflect the reduced number of boats on the water. Most weeks during the summer we record around 75 guided days, this week there were just 44 guided days on the water. For the week we boated 15 ‘eyes over 27 inches, and the top end was strong with two 30-inch fish and a 29.5 incher caught by Colton Nash, the youngest angler in camp – just 7 years old.
Our guides started searching for big pike a little more often this week. We caught and released seven pike over 37 inches this week, with our two biggest – a 41 and a 39 both caught on the first cast as we pulled up to a spot. What stood out to me this week was the number of big fish moved and seen, but not caught. For every big pike boated we saw three or more others. I know I will be recommending that the guests in my boat spend some time casting this week.
Well, it felt like the walleye were just recovering from the effects of the last cold front when another big front blew through early this week. A cold front following a cold front meant the active bite that we usually find at the leading edge of a front didn’t happen – the walleye hadn’t recovered yet from the first front when the next one blew through. The guide crew here responded by gearing down and using finesse techniques on those locations we knew held fish to produce numbers, and a lot of our big fish this week came from anglers investing time and patience in key spots.
Looking back at our guide sheets for the month of August, it’s clear it has been a “month of rock”, and good bites on sand structures continued to be few and far between this week. Our guide staff regularly checked the sand where we’ve seen so many great bites in previous Augusts because nobody wants to miss out, but we kept coming back to main lake rock to collect fish. The cold fronts, the high winds, and the walleye on rock this week led to most of our fish being caught with live bait and finesse techniques, but there were still bites to be found with big plastics and speed whenever the weather stabilized for a few hours. Key depths varied a lot both from spot to spot and day to day. It was common this week to hear nightly reports of boats catching both numbers and size in less than 15 feet of water all the way down to 39 feet.
The daily guide sheets reflect the challenging conditions this week and the number of walleye on the sheet varied widely day to day, but the average stayed at 25 walleye over 18” per guided day. For the week we boated 29 walleyes over 27 inches, with 9 over 28, and the biggest was a giant 30.5 inch fish caught by Paul Burkhardt.
Our anglers spent very little time hunting big pike this week. The boats that did chase pike sometimes found action but very few big fish up at casting depths. A lot of boats reported big pike seen or caught from deep water while walleye fishing, the two big cold fronts created a clear separation of depth and size. Our totals reflect the limited time devoted to pike this week with just 3 pike over 37 inches, the biggest being a 39 incher.
Local smoke, fire ban continues, Mike’s last report of the year:
This time of year always sneaks up on me. Brett will write the weekly fishing reports for the month of Sept. and I will be back to my Fall guiding season in Iowa.
The weather forecasts this past week featured a new phrase; “local smoke” was mentioned often. Sometimes that is just a hazy afternoon and at other times it is so thick that visibility is limited to less than a few miles and you can taste it in the back of your throat. It continues to be dry throughout the region and the lake level appears to have reached its summer peak 2 ft. below normal. It would take a staggering amount of rain to bring it up to full pool. The forecast for next week mentions showers, but for now, the fire ban continues.
The walleye bite has changed little over the past month. Main lake rock continues to be much more productive than main lake sand. The key depths have been around 30 ft, but we are seeing a few more walleyes moving shallower. For the week, we caught and released 24 over 27 in., including 3 – 28s, 4 – 29s, and 1 – 30. Volume continues to be steady with the sheets averaging 30 walleyes over 18 in. per day. There were some tough spells when guides marked 10 times more fish than they caught and then you would see a flurry.
The split this past week was 1/3 production with bigger jigs and Gulp vs. 2/3 of the walleye production on lighter jigs and minnows.
There was a bit of time spent throwing for pike this past week. Action for smaller fish was good and production for bigger fish was just OK with 3 – 38s and 1 – 39.
Overall, it has been a great season at the Wheel. We owe much of the success to an outstanding staff, especially the senior members of the crew. Both in the dining room and on the water, it has been a pleasure to work with them this summer. I know and appreciate that they make the difference and are the reason that the Wheel turns as smoothly as it does.
Super Hot early, Dry cold front, and then a Smokey Fire Ban:
The new normal for weather seems to be variable ….. and weird. I questioned the long-term weather forecast on Monday. I told the crew that in my experience, it is not likely that we are going to see daytime highs of 96 shift to night time lows of 45 without some kind of major front or wind event. As it turns out the weather guys were right and I was wrong.
My parents were fishing with us this week and they always bring their camper up. They were the place to be on Monday night with air conditioning. By Wednesday morning they were working on getting the heater fired up. The mist rising off the lake Wednesday morning was replaced by an erie, smokey haze on Thursday at noon. The smoke was so thick that the sky turned orange and you could look straight at the outline of the sun. The smoke got thicker and then the sun disappeared. When we got off the lake we found out that we had already been on fire ban. I don’t know what the walleyes thought, but it was definitely out of the ordinary for the guide crew.
It feels like we are in a pattern of extremely variable summer weather. What is consistent is the guide crew. Even when the conditions are challenging, the guys work hard to find the pattern that may only last for a few hours. The last 3 fishing reports have focused on variable weather and even though we fished different areas and patterns, we ended with just about the same results for numbers and big fish. For the week, we caught and released 30 walleyes over 27 in., including 4 – 28s, 4 – 29s, and a 30.5 in. monster fish of a lifetime for John Armstrong. Volume was good with guide sheets averaging 30 walleyes over 18 in. per day.
There were still many big walleyes caught from 30 ft., but there was also a pattern that we typically see in Fall frontal conditions. We found walleyes in mid depth, neck down areas with current. This pattern is not one of my personal favorites, but when it produces multiple fish over 28 in. in water 20 ft. or less, I am forced to pay attention. The hard part is there aren’t many fish on these spots. These are a trophy hunter’s gamble – boom or bust. Without good electronics, I would never even fish them. You have to scan before you invest the time.
I would say that the big Gulp Nemesis at speed vs. light jigs on live bait debate ended at 50/50 this week. I hesitate to name a key depth, but 28 – 30 came up more often than anything else at weekly round table meetings.
Pike fishing results were OK. Guests saw more big fish than were hooked, but we still managed to boat 6 over 37 in., including 2 – 38s and 1 – 40.
Missy and the kids are on their way back to Iowa to get ready for school. Meetings are planned for the next construction project and I am getting ready to prepare for my Fall guiding season. It is always shocking to me that the season can go by so quickly.
It was a warm week, but the smoke from fires near and far kept the day time highs from being too unbearable. Highs this week averaged in the 80s with a few days in the low 90s. Lack of wind and variable winds were the biggest weather complaint from the guide crew.
There were reports of walleyes caught in the weeds by pike anglers, but for the most part, we fished fairly deep this week. Key depths for numbers and size were 25 – 30 ft. Volume did improve over last week with guide sheets averaging 30 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day. For the week, we caught and released 32 walleyes over 27 in., including 5 – 28s and 3 – 29s.
We continue to be split 2/3 light jigs and minnows vs. 1/3 – ¾ oz jigs and Gulp for production. There was less discussion of rock spots vs. sand spots and more talk about fishing the rock to sand transition on deeper water spots.
The addition of the Humminbird Helix’s to our arsenal of electronics has been a game changer. For those of you that don’t know, there is no depth contour map of Lac Seul with any accuracy. Auto-chart live on the Humminbirds has been the feature that has allowed us to make our own lake maps and discover spot on spots and new hotspots, even in our own back yard. If you are a fishing geek and fish water that does not have a good lake map, I am certain that you will love this feature.
Groups spent more time fishing pike this past week and the results improved. The regular spots were top producers and main lake weeds adjacent to deep water were the key. For the week, we caught and released 10 over 37 in., including 2 – 38s, 1 – 39, and 2 – 41s.
I tend to stay focused on the fishing, but it was a busy family week at the lodge with many generations. In the evenings we had kids of all ages tubing, boarding, pitching bean bags, and playing Kubb in the yard. I know my kids had a blast.
A Tough Week:
We were due for a hard week and we got one. The weather was dominated by a massive cold front that hit us on Tuesday. The forecast on Monday did not sound terrible, but the Low of 7 (45 F) predicted for Wed. night raised an eyebrow. Weather changes that dramatic are usually accompanied by strong North winds and this one was no exception. It was a howler on the southern basin and was much worse than the Weather Network promised.
Fires were lit. Heaters were turned on. Clothes were dried out. Below the water, the walleyes scattered and prepared to ignore everything we were going to put in front of them for most of the rest of the week.
Keep in mind that we are terribly spoiled and our guests have very high expectations, so we did still catch many walleyes. It just wasn’t as fast and they weren’t as big as we expect for this time of year.
For the week, we caught and released 29 walleyes over 27 in., including 4 – 28s, 1 – 29, and 1 – 30. Volume dropped to an average of 24 walleyes over 18 in. per boat per day. Production split to about 1/3 Gulp at speed vs. 2/3 light jigs and minnows.
One trend that was new for the week, was guides pulling the smaller 4 in. Gulp on ¾ oz. jigs. It started with guides rigging their own lines with smaller Gulp to increase their odds for shorelunch fish. That worked, but it also turned out to be a solution for short bites after a cold front. And the big fish ate them as well. When the focus was for giants, we still pulled the 6.5 in. Gulp, but after a front, the little tails pulled at .8 to 1 mph were a better solution overall for action.
There was no real key depth. Many of the big walleyes were caught deeper than 25 ft., but there were also some shallow water bites this week as well. Main lake rock was better than main lake sand.
There was a bit more time and effort spent on chasing pike this week and the results were not bad in light of the weather. For the week, we caught and released 6 over 37 in., with 1 – 38, 2 – 39s, and 1 – 40.
With so many repeat guests, they know the big fish are here and that weather is the variable that will have the greatest impact on their relative success during their stay. Fortunately, most of them are fisherman, so they already know that massive cold fronts alter expectations and results.
This is year 20 for me owning and operating The Wheel, and the biggest difference between the early years and now is that I don’t have to argue and prove the quality of the fishery.
A really good year to date for big walleyes:
Last year we ended the season with a total of 58 walleyes over 29 in. With many fishing days still left in the year, we have already matched that number of big walleyes for the 2018 season. Even more significant is that 19 of those 58 fish were over 30 in.
This week was an outlier for weather. It felt much more like a last week of Aug. or first week of Sept. It was cool, often showery, and again quite windy. I left my windows open one night and woke up to a morning low of 50.
The walleye bite was split between main lake rock and sand. It was also equally split between Gulp Nemesis with ¾ oz. jigs at speed and dead sticking minnows on ¼ s or 1/8 s over neutral to negative walleyes marked on the graph. It was also split between groups of walleyes in 15 – 24 ft. of water and groups in 30 ft. or deeper.
If you read this report on a regular basis, you are probably tired of hearing that we fished it all…. or conducted multiple experiments each day looking for a pattern to duplicate, but that is exactly what happened again this week. The one significant difference is that after the cool front, there were a tremendous number of marked arcs that did not want to bite. Years ago, we would have sat on them or moved on to another group marked. Surprisingly, pulling Gulp through those fish sometimes triggers a bite that I would not expect. The take away is don’t let the results of one or two experiments color your impression of the whole day.
At round table, we talk extensively about how a bite changed on a spot or how a group of walleyes moved shallower or deeper in an area as the day progressed. The hard work is to stay focused and continue to work the problem until you find a solution.
There were several slow spots this week, especially in the afternoon, where getting the big ones to bite was extremely tough.
For the week, we caught and released 54 walleyes over 27 in., including 8 – 28s, 2 – 29s, and 3 – 30s. Walleye volume was average with 36 walleyes per boat, per day over 18 in. Most of the 27s and all of the 28s and over were caught in 24 ft. or deeper.
The unsettled weather did nothing to improve the pike fishing. Some guides tried, but the results were weak. For the week, we had 2 over 37 with one 39.
My favorite part of the end of the week is that 2 of my second-year guides Garrett and Gouws smashed their results even though senior guides advised against their strategy or fished past them. Full disclosure – I was one of the guys that fished past. They lit it up and and that is the program. Teach the system and let it work. Everyone learns all of the time and we all get better.
Not Extreme weather changes, but unsettled:
Looking back over the week, it was usually windy, but the weather shifted from hot to cool, rainy to dry, and from dry to humid and cool. None of those changes were dramatic and the overall walleye bite improved over last week.
We fished it all hard this week; rock, sand, deep, shallow, not so deep, not so shallow, weeds, not weeds….. You get the idea. Each day was a mixed bag. The 6 in. Gulp Nemesis caught a bunch of big walleye on ¾ oz. jigs pulled at speed. We found a few new areas with steep rock walls adjacent to deep water that produced well. The guide crew continues to use the standard operating procedure of covering water with big jigs and Gulp and then going back over the best areas with smaller jigs and live bait. The bigger walleyes were caught in water deeper than 20 ft.
Sometimes the numbers paint a better picture than the words. For the week, we caught and released 57 walleyes over 27 in., including 9 – 28s, 4 – 29s, and 1 – 30. Average walleye volume increased to 36 over 18 in. per boat per day. Walleye fishing was good, but there was never a focal pattern or location. Every boat was switching up speeds, techniques, and areas multiple times a day.
The big pike are still MIA. There was some effort spent searching for them this past week, but aside from a few sightings of bigger fish, it was uniformly considered a fail. For the week there was 1 – 39 and 1 – 37 caught and released.
Not every group takes advantage of the borrow rod options available in all our guide boats, but most do. The ability for guides to simply switch out rods and conduct a different experiment moving from 1.3 mph vs. .003 mph or back, is a huge tactical advantage. The average guide boat completes more than 6 full rod switches each day. Occasionally, that number can approach a dozen. Flexibility and a problem-solving approach to the day were keys to consistent success this past week.