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Catching the big bluegills was frustrating

Deb Compton, a world ice fishing Silver Medalist, shows off a nice Lake Okoboji bluegill. Though the species is native in the Park Rapids area, its behavior differs from lake to lake. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

We're pretty fortunate in the Park Rapids area. Think about it, almost 100 lakes within a 10-mile radius, so you can literally throw a rock in any direction and have a good chance of hitting water.

Not to mention the water in those lakes is crystal clear and in reality, the fishing pressure isn't unbearable.

I love our area, but recently I went on an excursion - to fish in Iowa.

The destination; Lake Okoboji. The target; big bluegill.

Upon arrival I met up with ice fishing guru Dave Genz. I immediately started picking his fishing encyclopedia of a brain since I had never breached the shoreline of Lake Okoboji in my life.

Next, I did the same with some of the local guides on the massive water, which connects to Spirit Lake.

"What's the water clarity?" I asked.

"Clear," they responded. "Really clear."

After one final inquisition, I discovered that the water clarity was 12 feet deep and the preferred method of catching those big Iowa bluegills was sight fishing, a rather recent technique brought to the forefront in the angling world.

Yet when it comes to fishing around here, 12-foot water clarity is the rule instead of the exception.

And sight fishing has been standard practice for years, whether you're angling through a massive spear hole to watch the fish come into view, lying on your belly with your face pressed tightly against the perimeter of the hole to limit the amount of light obstructing your view, or simply standing above the ice hole during the late ice period, when the bluegill and crappie tend to wander close to the bottom of the ice.

"The fish are finicky," the guides advised.

I didn't think that would be an issue, since the environment sounded so much like home.

Boy was I wrong.

In many regards, the fish wandering the waters of Lake Okoboji are similar to ours. Beautiful bluegills mixed with some plump crappies, the occasional pike, even a few muskies floating around to keep the panfish guessing if they're the predator or the prey. But after watching fish after fish approach my bait, which subsequently changed several times over the course of the day, only to stare mesmerized at the tiny hook and leave after several minutes, my frustration level increased.

I switched to a rod with 1 lb. test line, tying on the tiniest Northland Jiggle Bug on the market. It worked and I caught some of the most beautiful bluegills you've seen in your life.

Yet it wasn't just like fishing at home. There weren't several bluegills waiting for your jig to drop while you removed the hook from the fish you just caught. And the fish were definitely more temperamental, which is why I will undoubtedly return to Lake Okoboji next year.

Catching fish is a blast, but coaxing a big bluegill to bite is the most challenging game. In other words, fishing is the pursuit, not necessarily the outcome.