Panfish to pike: An every-person’s guide to fishing

Advanced Angling

Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

So you’ve been fishing a while now, and have mastered the basics. You can identify our region’s different fish species on sight, and you own several rods and reels and have a full tackle box. You’re catching more and bigger fish, learning what kind of fish you like to catch, and how you like to fish for them.

Follow these paths of interest as they present themselves. Specializing in a specific type of fishing for a while builds up your angling skills quickly. If you like bass, learn to work soft plastics around docks and weed edges; for walleyes, master tossing crankbaits and fishing slip-bobber rigs along rocky drop-offs; if you like extreme violence, throw giant spinners and stickbaits at river mouths and get ready for a monster northern pike or musky to attack right at your feet.

You’ll soon start to see the appeal of fisheries a little further afield. Within five hours of the Twin Cities there are tens of thousands of inland lakes, Lake Superior to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, and countless miles of trout streams to the southeast.

Each of these new places will demand new gear—maybe your first baitcasting, spinning, or fly fishing setup—new tactics, and plenty of research. On your first trip to a new region, consider hiring a local fishing guide. Not just because they will put you on fish, but because you’ll learn so much in a single day of fishing. Make sure your guide knows you’re there to learn, not just catch fish, and ask lots of questions.

You’ve probably thought about buying a boat. A boat opens thousands of acres of new water—there’s an indescribable feeling of freedom that comes with hooking up that trailer for the first time. But a boat also requires constant maintenance—motor, trailer, electronics, tow vehicle, and more. The more complex your rig, the less time and money you’ll have for fishing. Maybe you enjoy working in the garage, or are happy to pay someone else to do the work, but consider this old adage: B.O.A.T. stands for Bust Out Another Thousand.

Arguably, the most versatile fishing watercraft is a canoe or a kayak. Maintenance is simple, costs are low, and there are many lifetimes of fishing to be done from paddle-powered craft. There’s a robust community of anglers doing just this, so there’s a plethora of accessories and information on rigging, tactics, and safety out there.

Fly Fishing: So Hot Right Now

The Twin Cities seems almost to have been tailor-made for fly fishing, especially if an angler is interested in more than trout. In addition to the panfish, largemouth bass, muskies, pike, and carp in dozens of Twin Cities metro lakes and streams, we’ve got some of the best fly-friendly smallmouth bass river miles in the country right at our feet. That said, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin are ribboned by trout-filled spring creeks.

Forget the tweed and bamboo-rod stereotypes. The Twin Cities has an active and youthful fly fishing scene and you don’t need anything fancy to start. Hit your local fly shop and pick up a fly rod combo in the nine-foot, five-weight range, a few tapered leaders, and a handful of recommended flies, and you’re set. Fly shops usually offer beginner-to-advanced classes and guided trips, so even if you’ve never cast a fly rod before, it’s easy to get started. And here’s a little-known secret: if you’ve never fished at all before, you’ll probably pick up the mechanics of fly fishing quicker than someone who’s cast a conventional rod their whole life, because you won’t have a million muscle-memory habits to unlearn.

Whether fly fishing becomes another tool in your angler’s toolbox or a new lifelong passion, it’s worth considering. Another bonus: no messing with live bait!

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