Shadow Walnut Point State

The lake at Walnut Point State Park. In his weekly column, Dave Shadow writes about fishing in unknown waters. 

Most anglers that have had the occasion to travel to some larger body of water have experienced the feelings of insurmountable anxiety. I have certainly “been there.” However, with a little preparation and patience, this can all be handled. Probably the greatest case of this frustration, for me, came prior to my fishing experiences on the Mississippi River. I had fished local lakes and even some larger ones with some level of success, but I was totally awed with the prospect of going to the Mississippi. After all, it goes all the way from Minnesota clear down to New Orleans. How was I supposed to know where to fish?

Prior to this, I had won the National Match Fishing Championship, so it was surmised that I could fish with confidence anywhere. I knew I could catch fish, but how do you get started on a big, big body of water? I was fishing a tournament trail that had events on the rivers and one of the guys questioned why I always skipped those events. Having told him of my bewilderment, he advised me to come to the next event and try it out. I would be surprised, he said. Boy was Ole Mel right! I found a method and caught more fish on the Mississippi than almost anywhere else.

The secret is to understand that the fish are the same no matter where they are. They have similar needs and desires such as food, sanctuary and procreation. Prior to my first event on the big river, I simply bought river maps and since the rivers have mile markers I divided the river into a series of smaller lakes. These I could deal with and not spend all my time running around and wasting both time and fuel. I fished each section as if it were the whole thing. The Mississippi has many islands, incoming creeks and backwater sloughs. Some of the sections that I explored had more than others, and I marked the more productive portions on the river maps accordingly. Looking at this massive river this way made it manageable and greatly reduced the anxiety levels of the unknown. I even made a few bucks!

As time passed, I found that applying this philosophy to the larger lakes also made me more productive. I always have a tendency to travel to the far outreaches of the lakes or the woods when I fish or hunt. I find this an enjoyable experience, but it usually isn’t the most productive. I’m reminded of a guy that once backpacked into a remote wilderness. He set up camp thinking he was far from civilization only to discover he was within a few yards of the opposite side of the wilderness area and actually close to other camps.

If you’ll take a large lake and divide it into small sections and then fish or explore each section as if it was the total, you will find out things about the lake that you would not normally discover. Restrict yourself to the smaller section and avoid the temptation to run up the lake to another area. Save that area for the next visit.

Keep notes on each section concerning the water conditions, temperatures, structures, fish caught and the dates fished. These will be very productive when you fish that same lake under similar conditions in the future. An area that may be productive in the early spring may be barren in mid-summer.

Most importantly, however, you will find those small sections that seem to hold fish almost all the time. These will be your “honey holes” for the future. Mark them on a map and send me copies please. That’s about like asking a mushroom hunter to show you his “good spots." I wish you good fishing!

It’s Faith, Family, and Fishing.

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