There’s something really special about having a secret fishing spot. Maybe it’s a tiny piece of structure that only you know about on a busy lake. Or better yet, it’s an entire lake that nobody else knows exists. I like to discover and keep both kinds of secrets, but my favorite clandestine fishing spot is a small remote lake. I have several such secret haunts, and no, I’m not telling you where they are.
But when you find one, man oh man is it fun to go there. One of my favorites isn’t much bigger than 10 acres. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people drive by it on an adjoining highway, and I’m sure none of them give it a second thought. It’s just a puddle after all… probably only a few feet deep. There couldn’t possibly be fish in it.
Boy are they wrong! It’s got 32 feet in the center and teams with sunfish and largemouth bass that thrive without any pressure – so they grow big. Really big. When I fish this puddle in the summer, I use a camo duck boat, wear camouflaged clothing and always hug the edges of the cattails that surround it. I don’t want any of those passing motorists to notice me. In the winter, I wear snow camo and keep my auger and gear covered with a white sheet. If you could experience the quality of the fishing there, you’d understand my secrecy.
Another favorite lake is bigger, measuring about 60-70 acres. It has remained a secret because it sits about two miles from the nearest pavement. A minimum maintenance road gets you within a half mile. Well, “road” probably isn’t the right word. It’s a nasty track, passable only with my Honda Foreman. My new machine has power steering and does that ever make the drive easy! The remainder of the journey is on foot, carrying a canoe or dragging a jon boat. It’s a lot of work, but worth it.
The lake has no name. I call it “Smorgasbord” because it’s got just about every species you’d want in it. How can that be? I used to wonder the same thing: How can this little lake have bass, pike, walleyes, crappies, sunfish, perch, bullheads and more… without inlets, outlets or any stocking efforts? I found out one day. I made a bad cast and wound up in the willows on shore. So I pulled up, stepped out and walked in there to free my line. The “earth” moved under me. It was a floating bog that looked like solid ground. After checking an aerial photo, I discovered that this bog extended a half mile and connected to a nearby chain of lakes. Who knows how much navigable water (for fish) is under that bog canopy? But it has to be the reason those fish are there.
There’s another way that fish get into lakes that once had none. Shore birds like herons and egrets can help stock a lake. What happens is this: As the birds walk the shallows on a lake with fish, they often pick up fertilized eggs in the nooks and crannies of their feet. Then they fly over to check out a nearby pond and unknowingly deposit the eggs there. They hatch and abra-cadabra, suddenly there are fish in the pond.
If you love to fish and have a bit of explorer in you, then you owe it to yourself to discover remote backwoods backwaters. Technology has made this easier than ever. The first step is to get on your computer and bring up Microsoft’s Bing Maps. This is Microsoft’s map service with aerial photography of the world that will blow your mind. From this up-to-date bird’s eye view, you can locate all the small lakes in your area and set up a game plan for investigating them. Cross-reference the lake locations with county plat maps to identify public access points or to find landowner names for securing access permission.
If a certain lake has a name, I’ll search for that lake on the “lakefinder” section of my state’s DNR website. Many times, even remote lakes without public access will be present on “lakefinder,” complete with contour maps, results of netting studies and more. Having a lake map and knowledge that fish ARE present takes a lot of the guesswork out of the lake discovery process.
When I get on one of these little lakes for the first time, the first thing I do is turn on my portable sonar unit and start covering water. I want to find the deepest part of the lake. If it turns out that the deepest water is less than 10 feet, then that lake isn’t a good candidate in Minnesota. There’s too much chance for freeze-out in the winter. If it’s got at least 20 feet, that’s a good thing. After finding the “hole,” explore the edges and determine the depth of the weedline. And the whole time, keep an eye on the sonar for fish signals. An underwater camera is a good scouting tool to have too.
With a general understanding of the lake’s maximum depth, weedline and other structural elements, it’s time to start fishing. Start with a bait that will catch just about anything, like a small Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub on 6-pound line. If the lake is full of pike, it won’t take long to get bit (and probably bit off). Switch to heavier tackle and bigger baits. If you get pestered by light bites from panfish, downsize and find out what they are. After putting in some time and trying different depths and tactics, you’ll soon unravel the mysteries of the lake and experience a real sense of accomplishment.
Sometimes a mission to an unknown backwoods lake ends up being a bust. But other times, the lake turns out to be a jewel. When that happens, it’s like discovering hidden treasure… only better.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for more than 25 years. Watch the award-winning “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows on Versus (formerly OLN), Fox Sports Net, WILD TV, WFN and many local networks. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times where you live.