Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lake Oahe, Days 1 and 2

Steve with a nice Striped (white) Bass

Not unlike my trip last month to Canada, last weeks adventure to Lake Oahe was a return to a 22 year old memory of the last time I fished with my friend Roger Weber, of Aberdeen, South Dakota fame.  Besides re-living memories, our host Russ Praught let us on to the increased daily limit of 8/day and possession limits of 24 fish for walleyes caught on Lake Oahe.  Because the severe lack of baitfish has threatened the populations of walleyes, a special regulation was put in place to help reduce the numbers of predators in the system.  Of the 8 per day, only 4 could be longer than 15 inches, with only 1 over 20 inches.  The ideal catch of the day would be 1 over 20", 3 at 19" and 4 at 14.5" per guy.  The actual catch would prove to be productive however not as optimistic.  Russ and his group left at 4:00 however we weren't as anxious as my brother Steve, Mark Applen, and I headed out at 6:00AM.  Arriving 7 1/2 hours later, we were on the water by 2:30 and immediately found Russ, Nate, and Gary fishing in the bay.   Oahe is a large reservoir on the Missouri River that extends over 230 miles above the dam in Pierre, SD.  The fishing locations consist of finding flooded points and flat areas that offer structure to hold fish.  For the most part it is flooded canyons and sharp drop-offs that mark the old river channel, and often dropping to 90 feet deep in less than 50 yards.  My Lowrance has an Insight function that is helpful in determining structures as well one can sometimes figure out what's below by looking at the shoreline to see, is it steep or sloping?  Reservoir levels can
Mark in Striper Heaven!
fluctuate considerably so the reference depth contours of my map chip are based on the full pool.  With the water level down about 20 feet and assuming some inaccuracies,  the contour lines were off by up to 30 feet yet were good enough to provide an great reference for what was under the boat.  Russ was fishing in 25 - 40 feet of water in the bay and catching a few.  We decided to move to the Moreau River area around an island to try our luck.  We did catch a number of 12 -13 inch walleyes but through them back, looking for larger fish.  The plan for a fish fry that night didn't look so good as we only had 5 in the live well.  It would soon become obvious that if you wanted fish, those 12 inch walleyes would start looking better.  As the boat worked our way back up the shore line we entered a mud line (caused by the interaction between the waves and the current) and immediately I got hit. This was no walleye and soon I hoisted a 18 inch striped bass.  Looking at Mark who was in the front of the boat I yelled....ANCHOR LOCK as the Terrova can hold the boat in one position, I knew these fish school up and it could be a frenzy.  I was right!  Steve and I traded our jigs for crank baits and we were catching a 17 - 19' striper on at least 9 out of 10 casts.  Mark was going crazy as he had never experienced a hot striper bite and couldn't get over the amount of triples we experienced.  I took a video and uploaded it on YouTube, you can check it out on this link: Striper Fishing.  The action lasted for over an hour before we were forced to leave, my guess was we caught close to 200 fish.  We used to catch these fish on Lake Pepin but never this big and for this long.  It was a great day to end day 1. 

23" Walleye
Day 2 brought the hottest day of our trip, over 100 degrees by early afternoon.  Determined to stay cool and protected a long sleeve Simms fishing shirt and long Cabela's fishing pants were my choice of clothing.  The new modern fishing clothing are amazing even on a miserable day like Thursday turned out to be.  After deciding that yes, the Moreau River was nice, the walleyes were small and challenging to locate.  One of the features on my Lowrance Map software was fishing tips for areas and after reviewing a few notes about a bay south of Swan Creek, we decided to try a few areas before settling in on Fielder Bay.  As we entered the bay Steve noticed something moving on shore.  Needing a little break we motored over to the far shoreline only to find 3 horses standing at the edge of the water and shaking their heads up and down.  The oddest thing we had ever seen I took a video and again uploaded on YouTube, check it out on this link: The Nodding Horses .  It was as though they were saying......Yes, Fish Here!!!  Well, within a few minutes I landed what would be the largest walleye for the first 2 days, a 23 inch fat pig.  The horses were right, Fish Here!  We did get a few more walleyes however as it got warmer during the afternoon we needed to find something a little more productive.  Moving out of the bay and into the main river we noticed a boat fishing just south of an area called Slide Hill.  With my contour map I could see that it was working an underwater point in the 22 - 26 foot range.  The wind created a perfect drift as we started fishing somewhat shallower that our previous target depth of around 30 feet.  Immediately we started catching fish.  Walleyes, northern, sheepshead, catfish, smallmouth bass, perch, crappies, stripers, one never knew what you would pull up once the hook was set.   Still being somewhat particular with the size of our walleyes, it just didn't seem right to keep those 12 inchers but man, this was the majority of what we were putting in the boat.  It was a lot of fun catching a variety of fish and admittedly those larger catfish put on quite a fight, we still fell short of
our limit of walleyes despite the liberal limits.  Something was not right and we finally figured it out, it was us!  As we met Russ and his 2 partners Gary and Nate Fischbach back at the landing meeting at the very nice cleaning station it was obvious, if we were going to catch our limit it had to include a significant number of small walleyes.  As we talked to the locals who fished the area often, they acknowledged that the population of walleyes were skewed to the under 
Second day limit from Russ, Gary, and Nate
15 inch fish and the regulations encouraged the harvest of the smaller walleyes.  If you have ever fished Lake of the Woods in the winter, you will soon figure out that a 13 inch sauger is an average fish and fair game.  Setting our standards at about 14 inches cost us a day and a half of our possession limit and going forward we relaxed our expectations.  Besides, a 13 inch perch was always acceptable, tomorrow would be different.

Our first 2 days proved to be our exploratory phase of the trip.  Getting our bearings and fishing memories from 20 years ago, we needed to step it up if we were going to bring home any fish.  I always like to leverage myself with the locals as they can shortcut your strategy considerably.  Akaska, SD is a friendly town of fisherman with a great sense of community that is tied to fishing.  Cleaning my boat a couple drove by with their golf cart, the preferred mode of travel, asking how we did.  Explaining the small fish I was assured that the under 15 inch fish made up the majority of the population and we should really start keeping these. As well I related my story of fishing 20 years ago with my friend Roger and his home town friends the Kessler's, when George Kessler hosted Governor Mickelson of South Dakota.  The guy remembered the day the Governor came to Akaska, an effort from the local supporters to get the 9 mile stretch of gravel road from town to the boat landing paved with asphalt.  The shore lunch we had off a bay south of the landing was the inspiration for what now is known as Governor's Bay, named after that event.  It's interesting to realize that I was there for a small piece of history that was significant to the local area. Governor Mickelson tragically died in a plane crash on April 19, 1993 as it was a sad day for my South Dakota friends.  My experience was special as our shore lunch was spectacular, eating fresh fried walleyes and all the fixin's while the Governor told stories of the wild west, South Dakota style.  Later he offered to buy everyone a drink at the local saloon as we walked down the boardwalk to enjoy a beer with him.  Today that saloon is gone, the road is still maintained, and the memories are as they happened yesterday.  This week is family reunion time and I have much more to share for day 3 and 4, it will have to wait.

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