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Fishing for ciscoes takes a variety of methods

“Hello Gary,  Jim Muscat here from Bozeman Montana. I do not know you although I am sure we know mutual friends in the world of walleye. I have read your informative columns in the Park Rapids Enterprise newspaper. Obviously you’re an avid troller of lakes with a cisco forage.  “I do a lot of trolling and night trolling;  have for years but to date it has always been on perch forage lakes. Here in Montana we have one fishery that is going thru a 40 year “perfect storm” peak for big fish and it is cisco-based. I am trying to bring myself up to speed on cisco.  “Wondering if you can point me in the right direction to start, “Thanks Jim Muscat”  Happy to try and help where I can. Jim, for as long as I remember, the deep main lake basin fishery has interested me. Ciscoes are part of the main lake basin fishery.

As time evolved’ I realized ciscoes are an important forage base for walleyes, too.  They are different than perch so summer is a time of suspension in the lives of ciscoes. Starting when surface water temperatures warm into the 70’s, cisco schools can be seen suspended on anglers’ electronics. The layer of these silvery fish start wide and narrow as summer temperatures warm and the deeper lake depths become scarce of oxygen.  This causes ciscoes to be sandwiched between warm surface water temperatures and deeper depleted oxygen areas. Walleyes are opportunistic feeders and are found under these layers of bait fish.   Low light conditions of early morning and late evening find the ciscoes in areas with the highest densities suspended over deep water. I can’t explain where they come from except that they just appear and at times are so thick the sonar signals can’t transmit through them.  

Mornings, as the sun’s first light just touches the trees, the ciscoes begin to disappear. Evening finds when the sun’s rays touch the trees, these bait fish begin to appear again, except during cloudy weather conditions. Ciscoes can be found suspended in the water column all day long.  Fall is a time when ciscoes move shallow to spawn. Walleyes are right behind them. Most anglers have long since put the boat away.   The 10-day period on either side of the full moon during October and November are peak times for shallow water movements of ciscoes, onto wind-swept rock shorelines. I have seen and experienced the after dark movement on a number of Park Rapids area lakes. The bottom sparkles and the walleyes follow behind, feasting on these easy morsels.  It’s hard to pinpoint the exact movements of suspended ciscoes without good electronics.  

To summarize, summer time, cruise slowly over the deeper water of cisco-based lakes looking for them to show on the depth sounder screen. Schools may show to be compact and dense.  However, if they are scattered or broken up, there’s a good chance walleyes are nearby feeding on them.  During fall, put the time in on rocky wind-brushed shorelines before dark and a couple hours afterwards during the full moon phase. This is a good place to start,   Jim.