Bit by the bass bug
Alexandria’s Shad Schmidt pitched a 3/8-ounce bass jig tipped with a soft plastic crawfish trailer into the shaded waters under a dock on Lake Latoka on July 29.
Within seconds of the lure hitting the water, he felt the tug. Schmidt set the hook and the battle began with a near-four-pound largemouth.
After an aerial show or two, she was in the boat. It was one of two fish about that size that Schmidt caught and part of a handful of other smaller fish that he and I boated on a calm, sunny morning on the water.
Schmidt can’t get enough of pulling big bass out from deep weed lines, under docks and around fallen timber. During the summer months when he’s not busy with his duties as the Osakis Legion baseball coach, chances are he’s on the water.“I really like the thrill of catching a nice fish and feeling it fight,” Schmidt said. “When you see a four or five pound bass come jumping out of the water, it’s exciting. It’s fun to feel a bite and set the hook.”There’s hardly a lake in the Alexandria area where that exact scene couldn’t play out. The waters in Douglas County are filled with bass, mostly largemouth, but lakes like Minnewaska and Ida are also well known for their ability to produce nice smallmouth bass.“Very good,” Glenwood Area Fisheries Supervisor Dean Beck said when asked how he would rate the bass fishing in the area. “We get some recruitment inconsistencies. That can kind of influence the quality in terms of numbers of bigger fish coming through the system, but in general, there’s a reason we get so many tournaments in this area.”Schmidt fishes some of those area tournaments and says there are nice fish caught in almost every one. Minnewaska, Ida and the Chain of Lakes are popular destinations, but those bigger bodies of water are hardly the only lakes that produce both high numbers and the occasional big fish.“I think every lake around here holds some of those nicer fish,” Schmidt said. “We’ve fished league a few years and went to a lot of different lakes and someone always brought in nice fish. I’ve had people tell me when they find out or see that I bass fish and say, ‘bass fishing is too easy so I don’t do it.’ I think most anyone can go catch bass, that’s probably true, but it’s not easy to consistently catch nice bass.”Some of that is the fish in many of the area lakes take a long time to grow up. Beck said studies on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes date back to the 1970s and show that bass have always been abundant but that their growth rates are subpar.Bass typically have good success naturally reproducing in these waters. That, coupled with the fact that many anglers see them as strictly a catch-and-release fish, mean it doesn’t take long to repopulate.Beck said high waters during the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s helped lead to many successful year classes and produced more bass than the lakes were used to holding. The fish grew slowly, but it meant a lot of action for anglers and some big fish in time.Many of the fish from that period have worked their way out of the system now and the numbers have moderated a bit from where they were. Beck said there is still too many small bass in most of these lakes and encourages anglers to keep a few more of them to help balance the ecosystem.That could help in not only stocking efforts for species like walleyes, but also in producing bigger fish at a faster rate.“The reality of the situation is they are an important part of the predator community out there,” Beck said. “Being a top predator, you try to even out that predator/prey relationship in these lakes so you’re optimizing productivity…my rule of thumb is 12 inches or smaller from an eating quality standpoint. There’s a lot of them and we can afford to harvest those. Those bigger fish, I still encourage catch and release.”Most anglers will target bass around deep weed lines as the water heats up during the summer. That’s where Schmidt and I started during our morning on Latoka. We caught a few smaller fish. From there, we moved into shallow waters where there were a couple big ones hiding in the shade.Bass are a warm-water fish more than a walleye or a northern. That means even during the dog days of summer, there could still be some lurking in the shallows under a log or in amongst the reeds.No matter where they are targeted, anglers who catch the bass bug say it’s impossible to kick. Perhaps that’s because they can offer a little bit of everything that anglers look for – fast action, aggressiveness and aerial displays that make fishermen hold their breath.There are countless lure options to choose from. No matter how one does it, it’s easy to see why both largemouth and smallmouth bass are some of the most popular game fish in Minnesota.“I like fishing plastics, either on a deep weed line or flipping and pitching shallow water,” Schmidt said. “My favorite is flipping and pitching pencil weeds and cattails. Short flips into heavy cover, you get that hand-to-hand, heavy combat with the fish. It’s an absolute blast.”