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Final big game fish opportunity of the season

Phil Bauerly is addicted to late fall fishing and tangling with trophy game fish. (Gary Korsgaden / For the Enterprise)

By Gary Korsgaden /For the Enterprise

Lakes with cisco populations are a needed food source, as a forage base to produce trophy sized walleye, northern pike and muskies.

Ciscoes congregate during the fall in the shallows to spawn. Fall cisco spawning activity triggers “big game fish” to move in after these vulnerable morsels and providing anglers, looking for that last chance of the opening water season, to tangle with them.

Phil Bauerly of Walker looks forward to the open water days in November.

“My chances to land a trophy muskie or northern pike goes up dramatically in November,” he maintains.

Bauerly focuses his efforts on the deeper bodies of water that have rocky shorelines and sharp drop-offs connected to the main basin of the lake, magnets to the roving schools of spawning ciscoes.

Timing is everything. The cisco movement into the shallows happens when water temperatures drop into the 40 to 42 degree range.  Pay special attention the days before and after the full moon, Bauerly suggests. “Big game fish feeding activity peaks around the full moon” and when that full moon phase coincides with the 40-42 degree temperature and spawning ciscoes conditions are optimum.”

Finding the schools of spawning ciscoes is relatively easy. Put your focus on rocky sharp breaking drop-offs connected to the main basin or deepest water of the lake, look for the ciscoes surfacing during the low light periods of early morning or evening or watch for suspended “bait balls” on your electronics screen close to the deep water drop-offs.

I recall fall three years ago, a time characterized with warmer than usual temperatures on Long Lake, east of Park Rapids, water temperatures approached 42 degrees during November full moon.

Ciscoes swarmed the shallows to spawn and the walleyes followed close behind. Trolling shad-profiled baits in 5’ to 10’ of water produced numbers of nice walleyes for several evenings until the water temperatures dropped below 40 degrees and the ciscoes moved out over deep water and dispersed.

This year the prime shallow big game fish movement happened the days around the opening weekend of the Minnesota deer season. 

Anglers concentrating in the shallows released a number of trophy-sized muskie and northern pike. Bauerly hit the peak again this year landing a 45” northern pike and a 48” muskie, also losing another muskie estimated to be a 50” plus at the net all in one day.

Bauerly admits his outfits are nothing fancy but are extremely functional. Rods 8’5” to 9’ are his choice, reels are inexpensive wide-spooled bait cast loaded with 100# braided line.

There’s no particular preference to lures except large 12” to 18” shad-profiled baits that have a wide wobble to them. Hot colors include silver and white.

Trolling or casting the baits in the shallows works equally as well. Ciscoes are easy to spook when they are in 10’ of water or less so it’s necessary to make long casts or get the bait a distance behind the boat.  Trolling speed range from 3 to 4 mph. Casting is the preferred method to get the baits up to fish located tightly along the shoreline.