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The Little Walleye Town That Could, and Did
Tournament Tested, Square Lips
The Little Walleye Town That Could, and Did
Beautiful prairie summer scenery and sprawling waters are hallmarks of South Dakota’s Lake Oahe in the region around the tiny town of Akaska. The big lake will play host to the South Dakota Walleye Classic, an event built around family fun, Aug. 11-13.
There were few people living in the region when Lewis and Clark passed through what is now Akaska, S.D. Truth be told, there aren't many people that live there now.
“It's a huge metropolis! The town boasts of a population of 50, but I think there are actually 36,” joked George Kessler, hunting and fishing guide and a member of the South Dakota tourism advisory board.
But that number swells on weekends when 400 to 500 people arrive to fish Lake Oahe, one of the state's premiere walleye destinations and the fourth largest reservoir in the United States. Multiply that number by 10 times again when the town hosts the South Dakota Walleye Classic, coming up this summer on Aug. 11-13.
This year will be the fourth annual event, but it will be the first time the tournament features a team/co-angler format. Each boat will have a two-angler team on board plus a third co-angler chosen for each boat at random each day. This format is unique in that it allows two friends who are familiar with each other to fish as a team, along with a co-angler, for big bucks.
Kessler spends November through March guiding hunters to pheasants through his full service hunting lodge, Big Shot Pheasant Fields. March through November is reserved for chasing northern pike and walleye on the massive reservoir. He recalled returning to the boat ramp after pounding walleyes all day during the dog days of summer when he noticed the only vehicle in the parking lot belonged to him. “What's up with that?” he asked his fishing partner.
Kessler then suddenly realized the northern reaches of Lake Oahe were among South Dakota's best-kept secrets. Many vacationers were focusing on the area from Pierre to Gettysburg, SD, but few people were visiting from that point north to Mobridge and on upstream to Bismarck, ND.
“This stretch of the river has some off the greatest fishing in the world, but less than 8,000 people live from Pierre to Bismarck," he said. People overlook the northern reaches of Lake Oahe, but the fishing is phenomenal.”
Walleyes on the big Dakota reservoir used to be found primarily in deep water during the summer months. According to Kessler, things started to change about 10 years ago when the walleye's primary forage base of smelt shifted. A record amount of water was released at the dam during the time of the year when a high percentage of the smelt were schooled up in the deepest part of the lake, just above the dam at Pierre. Consequently, a good portion of the smelt got swept out of the impoundment.
Although smelt are still present in Oahe, the walleyes have adapted to feeding on the great numbers of gizzard shad and freshwater shrimp. Smelt are found deep in summer, while shad are shallower. Walleyes go where the food is, so they have moved from 35 to 40 foot depths to 15 to 25 feet.
While fishermen have moved with the walleyes, their live-bait tactics have stayed pretty much the same. It's hard to beat a Lindy Rig tipped with a chub or nightcrawler.
“Lots of guys are using heavier weights to get down to the 20 to 25 foot range," Kessler said. Bottom bouncers, 3-foot snells and plain hooks, tipped with a half nightcrawler, are very effective.
With so much water to fish, the first task is to cut the target water down to size. Structure is the first ingredient, as always. Reservoir fishing is a lot about jumping from point to point. Look for points close to the old river channel, which supplies the deepest water in the lake. Clay bottoms are typical, but if you find patches of sand and/or gravel, that's even better. Then motor over each likely point until fish and bait appear on your screen. “You won't have to go far from the ramp,” Kessler said. “It's usually not more than a 10 to 15 minute process. If you can't find bait fish, just go deeper or shallower.”
When walleyes start taking the bait, note the productive depth. It's likely that action will quit if you move too shallow or too deep. Carefully watch your sonar for both mapping and depth precision.
Some flats also hold fish, Kessler cautioned, so don't overlook them. Trolling with traditional crankbaits can come into play. A new lure from Cotton Cordell, called the Walleye Stinger, works well in addition to the Lindy Shadling. Try a mix of colors, but make sure some of the lures are natural colors.
And don't be afraid to target the portion of the water column over tops of submerged trees. Try to run your crankbaits so that they just tick the tops of the branches.
One factor to consider when fishing the north end of the reservoir: the water is shallow enough that it warms first and cools late, so fishing is good all season long, Kessler said. Unlike Minnesota and Wisconsin, South Dakota has no closed season for walleyes.
The South Dakota Walleye Classic will be held Aug. 11-13 and launches from the Swan Creek boat ramp near Akaska. The payouts total $60,000 based upon a full field of 60 boats. The co-angler payouts will total over $7,500. The entry fee will be $1,000 per team and $300 per co-angler.
As in previous years, Akaska will host a festival surrounding the tournament Aug. 10-15. Entertainment, a street dance, vendors and a kids’ fishing day will be held, so bring your family.
“It is a family event and we've worked hard to make it so,” said Kessler. “We really like to see the young kids because we're going to teach them how to fish.”
Take Highway 1804 to find the fun and the great walleye action. The road follows the path of Lewis & Clark, and it's the only one anyone has bothered to pave since they did. For more information contact Kessler at 605-380-1176.
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Tournament Tested, Square Lips
Current Fishing Tournaments
By Bob & Ginny Riege
Tournament fishing has been around since one fisherman challenged another about who might be the better angler. It may have even started with two kids on a riverbank measuring and manually weighing each other’s catch so the winner could be proclaimed for the day or the season. Today, some tournaments get a bad reputation because people believe that these tournament anglers are catching all the fish. They believe that the anglers are killing fish because they handle them and bang them around in their live wells.
Actually the opposite is true about tournament anglers. With the advent of tournament angling more and more people are actually doing more to conserve the sport of fishing while at the same time teaching and improving the methods that all fisherman can use. These anglers are field testing products and boats so that the average fisherman can learn from the professionals’ experience.
For example, the new bass and walleye boats that are on the market today compared to ten years ago have features in them that very few boats did in the 1980s. A circulated live well in the transom area of the boat allows for water to be circulated and provides oxygen for the fish. An angler can choose to bring in surface water or to circulate water that is already in the live well. Some boat manufacturers have even looked at adding a cooling or refrigerant pump to cool the water. Live wells themselves have come from added on long boxes in the interior of the boat to intricate functional features that allow a fisherman better monitoring of the conditions of the fish. Lighted live wells, high circulation pumps, timers to bring in fresh water are just a few designs that have improved the quality of the fish that are caught and released.
What would your fishing poles look and feel like if it wasn’t for the experience of the tournament angler? Well, I can remember growing up with a close face reel and a rod that was as stiff as a metal stake.
Today, the rods have sensitivity and feel that was unheard of ten years ago. This allows the average angler more feel and in the long run saves the lives of many fish. When the angler feels the walleye or bass pick up his offering he can make a hookset on the outside of the lip rather than having the fish swallow the bait before he could feel them on the line. I know that new rods have helped me to become a better angler. We owe that to tournament angling and space age technology.
Over the past years tournament anglers and outdoor writers have tested crankbaits as well. Tournaments on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in Western Kentucky as well as FLW & B.A.S.S. tournaments have tested the XCalibur Square Lip and the EEratic Shad. Recently, we used them at the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Spring Mega Media Event also known as the “Cast and Blast,” teaming up corporate sponsors with outdoor media for two days of fishing and hunting. The outcome of this test is to see about crankbait selection.
Crankbaits, shad baits, stick baits are all names that we give to minnow imitators. Crankbait fishing has been very popular in the South as well as the North for catching bass. Crankbaits can and do take a lot of bass, northern pike, muskies, crappie, trout and of course walleyes.
Selection of a crankbait is not difficult to determine, if you keep just six factors in mind. Choose your crankbait according to shape, size, running depth, action, color and sound. These six factors will increase your success while fishing this summer.
The type of fish that you are trying to catch might determine the shape of your bait. If you are fishing for bass you will want a short or fat bait like an XCalibur, Square Lip. The reason is the bass usually feed on shad or even bluegills that are short and fat. The shape of the fish that you are catching dictates the shape you need to offer in a lure form. For example the long slim baits such as the EEratic Shad are ideal for long slim fish. Walleyes, Northern Pike and Muskies are attracted to this type of bait.
Sound is another sense that the fish use to locate and identify food. Water conditions and specie of fish will determine the sounds that you would like to imitate. All fish have an organ along the side of their heads and bodies called a lateral line that enables them to detect subtle vibrations in the water. The new silent (no rattle) Square Lip wobbles with a semi roll to show its flash to bass down below and its silent swim projects a realistic baitfish look, sound and feel with water displacement – a real plus when bass are spooky or in very clear water.
Besides rattle, wobble and vibration don't overlook color. Try to match bait already found in the environment. The new XCalibur Square Lip Xcs Series comes in three sizes to ensure anglers can match the hatch no matter the season. The Alton Jones model Xcs100 measures 2 inches and weighs ½ ounce. The Tim Horton Xcs200 is 2 ¾-inches long and weighs 5/8 ounce. And the Edwin Evers Xcs300 is 3-inches in length and weighs ¾ ounce. Each pro also selected one color pattern as their signature color. Jones selected Smallmouth Green. Horton picked Bruiser, and Edwin Evers chose Black Shad. Along with flash you might want to change to a dramatic color. Chartreuse and the Firetiger colors aren't part of the environment but in stained water they are a highly visible target for fish. The type of terrain that you are fishing will determine color also. If you are fishing over sand maybe crawfish color, or next to a weed bed or drop off a perch or shad color will trigger fish.
The new XCalibur Square Lip comes in 14 total color patterns and you can gather more information on XCalibur lures by going to www.lurenet.com.
Running depth is a factor that has many variables to consider. To determine where the fish are, look at your depth finder. You will want to put that lure in front of their face, not below them or too far above them, but right in the" strike zone". Usually the bigger the lip on the bait the deeper they dive, but don't overlook line diameter and length of line. The new XCalibur Square Lip Xcs Series shallow running crankbaits cast like bullets and bounce off cover like champs, looking just like a dazed and confused baitfish. The paddle (lip) design allows the lure to be threaded through thick cover and come out the other side, a real trigger for bass. If you increase speed the lure will dig deeper and then ride higher. Therefore, experiment with speed, line diameter and lip structure to see if the bait is getting down to the "strike zone".
Bait action again can be the triggering factor for many a finicky walleye, northern pike and bass. In cold clear water use a slow wobble and slow retrieve or trolling speed. In warmer water, tight action and increased speed will increase your chances of a larger fish. Check your action when you attach your lure to the line. Run the lure along side the boat to see if it has a tight or slow wobble.
Be a change up person. Don't stick with one bait all the time. Try different colors, presentation, size, rattles and added weight. So many fishermen tend to stay with old methods that have worked before and fail to boat fish because they are stubborn about bait selection.
Therefore, I think that you can see that tournaments have helped the sport of fishing and taught more anglers about the world of conservation and ethics. Ten years ago the prize of the largest stringer of fish adorned the walls of many homes. Today, pictures on the water before releasing the catch adorn many more walls. Also the trophy fish is now a replica while the original fish swims to reproduce and fight another day. All in all I hope you can see that tournament testing is fisherman approved.
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