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WILTZ: Bait buckets require good decisions

I'm going to give you a tiny tip today that might someday make all the difference in a fishing trip. If the color of a lure matters, wouldn't it follow that the color of live bait, specifically minnows, also makes a difference? Believe me, it does.

A while back a friend and I were fishing the tailrace beneath the Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson. We were tossing minnow-tipped jigs from the bank, and I was catching most of the walleyes and white bass. His jigging skills were excellent, and he eventually asked me what I thought about the disparity in our catch. I told him to take the time to pick the "right" minnows from our minnow bucket.

Our bucket's potpourri of minnows included black fat heads, bronze-colored minnows, and olive-colored minnows with silvery sides. When I told him to use only the silvery minnows, he immediately began to outfish me. It wasn't chance luck. Most of our local bait shops are probably stocked by the same supplier. Check your next batch of minnows and see if what I'm telling you isn't true.

For the past 40 years, I've been telling you that on Lake Francis Case, a bank angler tossing minnow-tipped jigs, specifically from sundown until the dusky darkness of May and early June, will easily outfish boat fishermen. The fish, mostly walleyes, will move into shallow water at this time and hammer baitfish for 15-30 minutes. I believe this is especially true where deeper water borders shallow water. Often times a ledge is involved. Most anglers quit for the day before the heavy action begins.

Combining both of the tips I've given you today, I want to tell you about the evening of June 2. I went down to the river around 7 p.m. I set up on a favorite stretch of bank and sat on my five-gallon pail. My minnow bucket was at my right hand and my landing net was at my left. I flipped a minnow-tipped jig for a half hour. As the action was non-existent, I baited a slip-bobber rig and tossed it into 5 feet of water. A gentle, east breeze kept the bobber from washing to shore.

At sundown, a powerful fish smashed my jig-minnow combination. My drag sang as line was stripped from the reel. Perhaps I had the mother of all walleyes! I eventually learned that I was tied up to a big carp. He wouldn't fit into my net, and I eventually "shoveled" him onto the bank with the net. Carp or not, he made my evening! What a battle. It wasn't dumb luck. Friday evening while fishing with Dave, I caught a smaller 5-pound carp in the same spot on the same jig.

Sundown was 10 minutes past. The constant action I fully expected just wasn't there. I thought about my silvery minnow theory and rebaited my slip-bobber rig. Before I could bait my jig with a silver-sided minnow, the clicker of my old bait-casting reel on the slip-bobber rig was hummin', and a good smallmouth bass was dancing on the water. I momentarily put the bass in my pail, sat on it and rebaited the slip-bobber rig. Before I could get the first bass on the stringer, the bobber was off and running again with the second bass. I stringered the bass and put my slip-bobber rig away as I couldn't handle both.

I took the time to seek out silver-sided minnows and caught a half dozen walleyes that went 6 to 14 plus inches. No "keepers." As dusk crept in, a 20-inch walleye slammed my jig. His eyes resembled car headlights in the fog. A fat 24-inch walleye followed. Who said walleyes don't fight? My next cast produced a 23-inch walleye. It had been a long time since I threw back a Francis Case walleye because it was too big. I was ecstatic!

For the sake of non-fishermen, I should explain our South Dakota walleye possession limit. We may keep four walleyes. All must be 15 inches in length or longer, but only one may exceed 20 inches in length. My keeping a 20-inch and 24-inch fish was legal. I never did catch a 15-20 inch walleye that evening. Currently, Lake Oahe has a special temporary season that exceeds the four fish limit.

Where is this great bank fishing I mention? In my neck of the woods, the Svatos Bay area is good. Svatos Bay lies in the north end of North Bay. Both the east and west points of Svatos Bay can be awesome. The East Point requires some walking from the Randall Yacht Club road.

There is a modestly rocky point on the north end of the North Point Swimming Beach on Saint Francis Bay. This is a good spot that requires little walking to get to. Another great spot is the east side of the Saint Francis Bay boat ramp. Again, walking is minimal.

On the Missouri River proper, there is outstanding access to gravel bottom and deep water south of the White Swan boat ramp. I see picnic benches, and I assume the area is somewhat developed.

Thanks to the Corps of Engineers as well as Game, Fish and Parks, some great things are happening in the Pickstown area. Beneath the Fort Randall Dam, a road that offers shore fishing access along the tailrace is being constructed. The North Point hundred yard rifle ranges now have a 50- and 25-yard range alongside them. Earthen berms separate the ranges for safety sake. When you head to Pickstown for a week or weekend of fishing and camping, take along some rifles and pistols. They will add another great family activity to the agenda.

See you next week.