Minnesota Fishing Report: “Ross’s Fishing Review”

In-between the ice fishing season and the fishing opener read the East Silent Lake Resort fishing blog for helpful tips, successful strategies, and more before your next fishing outing in the Otter Tail Lakes Country area. Here is this week’s fishing review from local fishing guide, Ross Hagemeister.

“Fishing and the Common Loon”

“A lot of people try to tie visual things into their fishing. When I take people out on the lake, one visual cue a lot of people notice are the birds. Loons, seagulls, and grebes are the most common fowl we see on the lakes during the course of the summer. Ducks and geese, even though they are abundant, go unnoticed as they are typically rearing young in ponds and slews and they don’t fledge till later in the season.

Loons are probably the most noticed “duck” on the lakes throughout the Otter Tail Lakes Country area. A lot of folks, both Minnesotans and non-residents alike, refer to loons as “ducks.” Sorry folks, a loon is about as “duck” as you are a low-land gorilla. Seagulls make a major appearance on the lakes in late July and August as the young gulls fledge and enter their new life as open water foragers/scavengers. But it is the loon who seems to attract most of the curiosity and questions.

I’m not an Ornithologist, and the only understanding I have about loons is observation based, but I would refer to them as predatory. They seem to hunt for what ever they eat. They use their keen vision to locate schools of minnows/fish from the surface by sticking their heads part way into the lake and looking. Suddenly they dive and a while later resurface. Sometimes they have a minnow or small fish which they tear apart at the surface and eat in a “dipping” manner, like they’re dipping bread in soup. It’s fun to watch. Most of my fishing guests really notice the big “duck” eating the fish.

The loon is the Minnesota state bird. They are large, beautiful, and have a distinct and somewhat haunting call, but for a fowl that is known to be rather solitary, they sure do like fishing boats and anglers. It’s a bit of an irony. Most folks on board, seem to make the association that loons hunt for fish, therefore, where loons are so are walleye, and bass, and sunfish, etc. Then comes the question, “Does it mean we should fish where loons are?” Not exactly. It seems it’s quite the other way. Loons actually seem to know that boats/anglers are symbolic of both food and sanctuary. It appears many loons embrace the presence of boats because boats are by fish. On the other hand, loons tend not to be where anglers should be. Only one time in 19 years of continuous guiding have I seen a loon with a young walleye in it’s mouth. In the Otter Tail Lakes Country area, I mostly see them feed on minnow species and young perch and occasional mid-sized panfish; I also see them eating crawfish. Therefore, I see no benefit in intentionally going to the lake, finding a loon or loons, and fishing by them. If anything, they will find you.

If a loon approaches your fishing spot, the first thing you’ll notice if you are on a good “bite” (having good fishing), is that your fish will scatter and quit bitting—suddenly. What to do? Move short distances, preferably away from the loon. When loons spook walleye for instance, the walleye tend to move deeper and hug the bottom. Walleye marks or signals that were once easy to see on your fish locator, suddenly become nonexistent—but the walleye may still be there. Continue fishing and hopefully the walleye keep biting. Often, though, the only good solution is to move to a new spot, free of loons, and try again.

Do loons always scare fish? Not all the time. They don’t seem to spook the fish as easily in the fall. If the loons aren’t eating the fish we’re trying to catch, why do they spook them? They are probably chasing minnows (the same minnows the walleye are eating) right past the walleye. Sometimes, I think loons may give chase—for chase sake. Maybe even playfully. Other times, we actually lure the loons right into our school of fish. Loons that are fishing near bye, are often attracted to the colorful lures and weights we’re using. The loons notice the lures and follow them down to the bottom. Either way, the large bird is foreign and fish don’t have the ability to discern it’s not a large predator like a northern or musky. It’s a large shape zipping through their neighborhood and they instinctively move out of the way—just to be safe.

Wether what I speculate is exactly accurate or not, the certainty of having loons fishing near your fishing spot can be detrimental to your productive fishing. It’s something I’m always looking out for. When I see a loon approaching my boat I know the fishing in that spot may be nearly over.

Finally, here’s a tip when fishing in zones where loons are. If you like to use markers— a visual aid that you through into the lake to pin point fish—then be aware that loons are attracted to them, especially the black ones. You can actually decoy loons to your location by using a marker! Ouch. If I have loons approach a strong fishing area, I hurry to my marker and pull it in. Often the loons will drift away and feed somewhere else. At least they won’t be feeding directly in the school I was marking. Enjoy the lakes this summer in their entirety. The wild life that live on the the lake’s surface are as interesting as the fish that swim beneath it. Love it all. But also know that those pretty, giant “ducks” may have a vested interest in your fishing spot too. Good luck in Otter Tail Lakes Country this summer.”

Ross Hagemeister, meisterguideservice.com