Top Secret Fishing Tips

Now that we have your attention….  let us first tell you that Sand Lake is arguably one of the best fishing lakes in Minnesota. It is well-known as a great walleye fishery but also boasts great fishing for northern pike, jumbo perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie and bluegill.

How to Catch More Fish on Sand Lake

by Steve Casselman, Lakewood Lodge

Walleye Fishing

Sand Lake walleye are the most aggressively sought after game fish in the lake for two reasons: their rapid growth and good size structure. Nature made the walleye an aggressive and successful predator. In fact, they continue to grow throughout their entire lifetime. A walleye works constantly to stay out of the sunlight, inhabit water in the 70 to 75 degree range and EAT! Sand Lake is a great walleye fishery for many reasons. Its natural vegetation provides cover for the walleye (and the plentiful supply of bait fish required by walleye) and its underwater structure and sand-gravel bottom offer ideal conditions for habitation and spawning.
Once a walleye reaches a length of about 10 inches it feeds on minnows, night crawlers or leeches. Since these are all part of the natural offering of the lake and walleye are accustomed to feeding on them they make for the best baits.

I prefer to fish for walleye using a 1/8 to 1/4 ounce multi-colored jig tipped with a shiner or a chub. The jig achieves two objectives. First, its shape and coloration garner attention and enhance the bait’s natural attractiveness to walleye. Secondly, the weight of the jig holds the bait at the desired depth yet allows the bait to move naturally. Choosing the appropriate weight of jig is important and can often be confusing. However, there are a few general rules to follow when deciding on the jig to use. In water less than 10 feet deep a 1/8 ounce jig works fine. If weather conditions are windy or if you are having trouble maintaining contact with the bottom use a ¼ ounce jig. Use a 1/4 ounce jig in water 10 to 25 feet and upgrade to a 1/2 ounce jig for water over 25 feet deep.

Maintaining contact with the bottom is the key to catching walleye! Experiment with different lifts and bait drags to improve your catch potential. The best jigging presentation in deep water is to lower the jig about two to three feet at a time until you hit bottom. Once you’ve found the bottom begin jigging by raising the tip of your pole using a “popping” motion. As you pop the jig upwards raise your pole tip to take the slack out of your line. Most of the time walleye will grab your bait on the fall. If you allow slack in the line you will not feel the initial tug and may jerk your bait out of the walleye’s mouth as you pop the jig again. Let the jig rest on the bottom for about three seconds before jigging again.

When using the jigging method hook the minnow through the top of the mouth, taking care to hook the lip or upper mouth, avoiding the actual head. This allows the minnow to swim freely. Walleye often will mouth the bait, turning it and playing with it before swallowing it. Watch closely for light taps on your rod or float and be prepared to set the hook when you feel them. However, practice patience until there is a definite tug.

In my opinion, the jig and minnow is tough to beat for great walleye fishing from opener thru October. However, another good method for catching walleye is a leech or night crawler on a spinner rig. Spinner rigs are  effective because they attract walleye through sight, sound and smell. The flash of a spinner whirling in the water and the dirt and sediment kicked up by the walking sinker will always grab a fish’s attention. The resulting vibration and sound are attractive to walleye and the night crawler or leech is your ace in the hole.

When setting up a spinner rig attach the sucker end of a leech or one end of a crawler on the first hook. Attach the other end of the bait to the second hook. Test your rig in the water before dropping it down to fish. The spinner rig should run straight and your leech should not roll up into a ball. After you have your trolling speed set add your split shot about 18” to 24” in front of your hook. This should keep your bait about 6 inches off of the bottom. It seems to me that on bright, sunny days with clear water a silver spinner works best. In darker water or on cloudy days a gold or fluorescent spinner seems to work best. As far as the beads go just mix colors until you find a mix that works well for you.

The great thing about Sand Lake is that you can catch just as many fish between 9am and 5pm as you can early or late. However, if you are fishing early morning you should be able to find walleye between weed beds where they’ve been feeding all night and deeper water. By shortly after sun-up they’ll be in deeper water, which is closer to their preferred water temperature.

If finding walleye in the weeds is tough, move to a rock-pile or ledge in 10 to 15 feet of water. I suggest you troll or, depending on weather conditions, drift so you can cover more area than still fishing. If you hit a fish, be sure to go back through the same area again. Walleye are a schooling fish so chances are if you hit one you will hit another. Walleye will usually be around structure and in the shade. This will hold true throughout the day and into evening until just before dusk.

If you are evening fishing don’t pack it in too soon. Fish for walleye on the edge of large weed beds, where they will be coming to feed at dark. Just as they were leaving the weed beds in the morning they will be returning at night. If possible fish until absolute dark. Walleye will usually start to feed at dusk in clear water and will continue to do so until full dark when the action will stop. Walleye’s eyes take up to an hour or more to become accustomed to the dark. This change usually occurs at the last light of day or full dark – at which point they will be able to see again and will start night feeding. Many anglers stop fishing after the initial evening feeding action slows or stops and by doing so miss out on a lot of good fishing.

Crappie Fishing

Personally, crappie fishing is my favorite. They are an aggressive, fun-to-catch and great tasting fish and in Sand Lake they are very nice-sized. Crappie fishing is also a good choice for the family. Crappies prefer warmer water than most fish in this area, which is why they will be the first fish into the shallows after ice out. They remain there until after their spawn in late-May or mid-June in this area.  After the lake temperature has risen from its early spring temps and the crappie spawn is over, your best bet is to find crappie is in open water or around rock piles or other structure. Crappies do not like a lot of current so they will use structure to shield them. They are not a deep water fish so they will usually be found in less than 15 feet of water all year. To begin, I will find structure in water that is around 12 to 15 feet and rig my setup to fish at about 5 feet. I will try this for about 15 minutes. If nothing bites I adjust my setup down by about 12 inches and try another 15 minutes and so on until I find the proper depth. It is very possible that you may have to bring your rig up to get a bite as well. I have seen many bites come with rigs setup only 12 inches under the surface. Once you find your desired depth keep your bait/lure moving very slightly. I prefer to use a size 6 hook but will go to a size 8 if the fish are being picky. When using jigs or lures for crappie I will stay with these same size hooks. My favorite choice when fishing crappie is a small jig (1/32 ounce) tipped with a crappie minnow no longer than 2 inches. My color preference is usually white, pink, yellow, fluorescent, black or a combination of all. Use black when fishing at night. Normally I will vertically jig this setup in 12 to 15 feet of water but no more shallow than 5 to 8 feet from the surface. My second choice is a simple size 6 colored hook, either red or fluorescent, on a slip bobber system tipped with either a minnow or a wax worm. Typically I will stay in the same depth range as mentioned above. In my opinion, there isn’t anything better than a couple of hours of pulling in slabs from Sand Lake.

Perch Fishing

Perch fishing is fun for all anglers – pure and simple. Many people forget about or shy away from perch because some perch during the heat of the summer will have worms in them. (By the way, these worms do not hurt the fish or you.) Since Sand Lake is a relatively deep lake the jumbo perch caught in the middle of the summer in more than 5 feet of water will be relatively worm free. Perch are willing and aggressive biters and can be caught at any time of the year although, during the spring, they are especially aggressive and abundant. As a cousin of the walleye their popularity stems from their reputation as excellent eating. Jumbo perch fishing is exciting and very inexpensive – no fancy equipment needed. They can be found in so many areas of the lake that it makes them somewhat easy prey. Good places to catch perch are under docks, in breakwaters, bay mouths or clear spots just outside weed beds. Holes in a bed of Lilly pads are especially appealing to perch. Generally, perch can be found in less than 15 feet of water but more often than not they dwell in 5 to 6 feet. However, they can be caught in 50 feet of water as well – you just never know when a perch might show up on your line. Remember that although perch are a schooling fish (much like the walleye) they are also migratory fish so they will move around quite a bit. It is not uncommon to go 10 minutes without a bite, and then have fast-and-furious action for 10 minutes, then as quickly as they moved in, the perch are gone again. I have heard many anglers say that Sand Lake ranks as one of the top jumbo perch fisheries in the state.

For perch fishing I prefer to use a size 8, red or fluorescent hook tipped with a crawler, wax worm or very small minnow. I will also use small jigs, normally about 1/32 oz., tipped with the above mentioned live baits or with red, white or fluorescent twister tails or green, pink or fluorescent tube jig bodies. The basic idea is that added flash and/or color will attract fish from further away. Once they get close enough they will see the real bait. When you do catch a perch, pay particular attention to the area and more importantly the depth you caught it at. Perch will often suspend at a certain depth based upon water temperature.

Northern Pike Fishing

Sand Lake also offers an abundance of northern pike. If you are looking for northern action simply tie on a Daredevil or most any spoon, start trolling or casting and hold on! Although, I prefer a gold or silver red eye the northern is my wife’s favorite fish and she swears by anything bright and pink. To tell you the truth when we are trolling for northern pike she usually out fishes me. Casting or trolling with Rapala lures along the weed lines is also very effective and a favorite of many anglers. Northern pike are an extremely aggressive predator and are always on the prowl for a meal. Rock piles, brush piles, pockets of weeds or bends and holes in weed beds make very good ambush points. If you find a weed line that quickly drops to deeper underwater structure you are sure to find a pike. Funny thing, northern pike also love to eat minnows – the bigger the better. So a jig and minnow combination is also very productive. When fishing for any species of fish in Sand Lake with almost any presentation or rig, you are sure to experience the fight of a northern pike. Northern pike are one of the few fish that do not seem to be affected, to a large degree, by the weather. If a storm rolls through it will take most fish some time to adjust and start feeding again. The northern pike, on the other hand, is always looking for a meal. If other fish have slowed due to a storm then tie on a leader and a lure and see if you can find a “gator.”

Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Locally, Sand Lake is not well known for its bass fishing. However, what most people don’t know is that Sand Lake is a very good largemouth bass lake with many six pound fish caught each year. Early in the season top water lures (especially frog lures) cast into the Lilly pads is very effective. Fall is an especially exciting time to fish for largemouth bass on Sand Lake. Cast your spinner baits or buzz baits into the reeds and Lilly pads along the straights of the lake and behind the points into the many bays. Smallmouth bass are also an exciting catch on Sand Lake. Each season we see 30 or so five pound smallies taken out. Most smallmouths caught are of good size. Search on the rock piles, as crawfish are a staple for the smallmouth bass. Bass fishing is probably the hidden secret to Sand Lake so…Shhh!….don’t tell anyone else!   Note: Smallmouth Bass Season is “catch & release only from Sept. 12 thru end of season.

Sunfish and Bluegill Fishing

The final species I want to tell you about are the sunfish and bluegill. Pan fishing is some of the most exciting fishing around so grab your ultra light rod, some 4 lb. test line, a few small jigs or colored hooks size 6 or 8 and a container of wax worms or crawlers and enjoy the fun. Sand Lake produces an abundance of large pan fish for your delight. Fish almost any break, drop or shelf especially in the back bays near weed beds and you are sure to find these monsters. If filling your live well with 9 to 12 inch pan fish doesn’t get your heart thumping then I don’t know what will. If your children are fishing with you they are sure to be excited when you find a school and it will be all you can do to keep up with removing fish and baiting hooks. Fall is an especially exciting time of year for pan fishing on Sand Lake. Sunfish seem to want to gorge themselves more than any other fish in preparation for the long winter ahead.

In closing, although Sand Lake is a very good fishery and provides some of the best fishing in northern Minnesota, any and every lake will have its ups and downs, depending upon the weather. Because of its size, structure and depth, however, Sand Lake does not seem to be as susceptible to the changing weather conditions as other area lakes. When you stay at Lakewood Lodge you are in the heart of the best fishing waters around. Within 15 minutes you can be at some of Minnesota’s best fishing lakes such as Bowstring Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, Round Lake, Jessie Lake, Turtle Lake, North Star Lake, Deer Lake, Moose Lake and Bass Lake. Within 30 minutes you can add Cass Lake, Island Lake, Pokegama Lake and Portage Lake to the list. Red Lake and Leech Lake are both approximately 60 miles from Lakewood Lodge.