Fishing Big Spirit Lake For The Fall Double Header

By Steve Weisman

Fall is always a great time for fishing. The months of September and October offer stretches of mild weather and beautiful colors as the trees turn a myriad of colors, and best of all, the fish are putting on that fall “feed bag” and are on that pre-winter feeding spree. Throughout the Hawkeye state, each region has lakes and rivers that are go-to places to fish.

Here in northern Iowa, there are a wide range of lakes from which to choose. From Clear Lake all the way across to the Iowa Great Lakes, good fishing destinations abound. It all depends on what fish you want to target.

One of my favorite lakes to fish in the fall is Big Spirit Lake. For one thing, it just seems that at least one species of fish seems to always be biting. However, beginning many times in late August, the perch bite begins to really take off. Add to that the potential of having great walleye fishing, and I think of a fishing trip to Big Spirit as being a double header type of day. You can easily spend part of the day fishing walleyes and the other part fishing perch, or you can even fish for both at the same time. Let’s see how a double header day might develop.

Fishing walleyes and then perch
If there is a lake that has been on fire since the opener, it has been Big Spirit Lake. The walleye bite has been outstanding since the May opener. If there have been any complaints from anglers, it has been that there have been too many slot fish (17-22 inches) and not enough keeper fish below the slot. My question has been all season, “So, what’s wrong with that?” Shane Akin, a friend of mine and owner of the Great Lakes Guide Service, says he and his clients have had many 100+ fish days since the end of May with lots of fish caught by pulling spinners and nightcrawlers/leeches over the weeds and then as the season progressed to a deep basin bite. Of course, a well-placed slip bobber with a leech/minnow along a deep weedline or over a rock pile is always a good choice for both walleyes and perch.

Now, as we move into September and October, anglers pulling crankbaits will probably have the better luck. Speed becomes more important, and anglers will work the entire basin (depending on the wind), with the goal of triggering the bites. Akin will troll all the way up to 3 to 3.5 mph. Each day’s bite will determine the right speed. For Akin, baits now include Flicker Minnows, Rapala Tail Dancers, Reef Runners, Shad Raps, Flicker Shads and Salmos. “I like to put out planer boards for the deeper diving crankbaits.” Don’t think you have to have the baits right on the bottom. Instead, Akin will put his baits at different depths, often anywhere from two to five feet off the bottom. Here again, let the fish tell you what they want. Mix and match lures and colors. Once you get a couple of hits, then put more lines to that size and color.

At any time during the day, you can always go after the perch. If last winter’s perch fishing is any indication, this fall’s bite should be a good one. Anglers with cameras down witnessed huge schools of perch. The key here is where? These perch always seem to be on the move and finding them and then keeping on them can be a huge challenge.

At one time, all you had to do was look for the boats fishing perch-I call them the Perch Armada. It kind of goes like this. If one or two boats are relatively close together, it’s no big deal. However, bring any more into the area, and you have the beginning of the Perch Armada. I’ve caught perch in a pack like this, but often the fishermen are sitting there waiting for the school that has already moved on. If you only have a couple of hours to fish, and unless you have already been catching perch in a certain area, you will probably have to go with the other boats and hope.

Now, if you’ve got time to explore and develop a good game plan, then check out potential spots and use your locator to locate a school of fish. The first consideration is the direction of the wind. It’s tough to anchor for perch on the windy side of the lake. Anchors have trouble holding and even trolling motors that serve as anchors, like the Minnkota I-Pilot, struggle in 2-3 foot waves. Plus, if you happen to be fishing in the weeds, that can really be a pain in the waves.

You actually have two choices: fish the basin for the wandering schools or head to the many weedbeds and work the openings in the weeds. The weedbeds, of course, can mean you could catch about anything from perch to walleyes to bass to bluegills, to crappies to northern pike and even a tangle with a muskie.

The bottom line is the more time you have and the more often you can go, the better your chances of staying on the bite. Each area that I catch a number of perch, I will mark the spot on my locator. That will give me a reference point for future reference.

The basin is the easier of the two to fish because you don’t have to contend with the weeds, but then weeds will often hold fish more of the time. When it comes to weeds, you’ll have deep weeds and shallow weeds in 7-8 feet of water. A couple of falls ago, that’s where we found the big perch time after time.

Whether you fish the basin or the weeds, there is always the chance of catching walleyes. That’s why I will straight line over the side of the boat with one line and then throw out a slip bobber with the other one. There just seems to be something special about a slip bobber bouncing in the water that an angler can’t replicate.

Lure choices include using spoons, mini jigs and Shucks Jigger Minnow tipped with a smaller minnow, silver wigglers, wax worms or meal worms. There is an array of colors for the Jigger Minnow, but green/gold and blood red/silver are my two favorite colors. Many times, with the slip bobber, I will use a plain hook and a minnow or smaller leech with a splitshot to keep the bait at the determined depth.

In the weeds, it’s all about being patient. You will have to work the jig around in the weeds. You might get caught on a weed, but by jiggling it or moving it in the opposite direction, it is pretty easy to dislodge it. The smaller perch will tap, tap and can be tough to hook. The bigger perch will strike (sometimes it almost feels like a weed) and hold-time to set the hook.

Size of the perch will be anywhere from little 5-6 inchers, 7-8 inchers, 9-10 inchers and an occasional perch around 11 inches. Sometimes, you’ll sort through a lot of little ones to get your keepers. At other times, most of the perch will be nine inches or larger.

If you are looking for bait, lures and general fishing information, check out Stan’s Bait and Tackle and the Hook Up (Oak Hill Outdoor both located at the north end of Milford and Kabele’s Trading Post located on Hill Avenue at the north end of the town of Spirit Lake.