By Pat Miller
The Minnesota River north of Belle Plaine winds through woods, swamps, farmland, and fields, and during the 1960s, a particular bend in the waterway created an extensive sandbar that the local river rats named Carter’s Corner.
About a 5-mile bicycle ride from town, Carter’s Corner was the go-to fishing spot for teenage anglers, and it was common for half a dozen of them to meet and spend the better part of a lazy day poking forked sticks into the sand, plopping their rods into the “V,” and waiting for something to take the glob of worms that swayed in the current.
Every once in a while, the rod tip would twitch, indicating that something had taken the bait. And, if everything went according to plan, the next few minutes would be awash in excitement.
There were many different fish species that called the Minnesota River home back then, and every one of them enjoyed a worm appetizer. Catfish, bullheads, carp, gar, and sheepshead were the most common catches, but on a lucky day you could land a nice walleye or northern pike.
To the kids, however, the catch wasn’t what mattered. Because they didn’t have access to a boat, their angling options were limited. What was important to them was just having the opportunity to fish.
Carter’s Corner provided that opportunity. It provided a spot where people could fish from shore and have a legitimate chance to feel a tug on the line. Granted, it took a little pedal power to get to Carter’s Corner, but the potential rewards certainly made the effort worthwhile.
Some things, even all these years later, don’t change much.
The DNR’s website states that Minnesota has 5,400 fishable lakes and 18,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, so just about everyone has a productive shoreline fishery in the neighborhood. And in this day and age, where gadgetry has seemingly overtaken every aspect of life, including fishing, a return to the simplicities of casting from shore, hooking a nice sunfish, and weaving it through the lily pads can be a refreshing experience.
The key to fishing from shore is to keep things simple. An ultralight rod, a few worms or small leeches, a stringer, and a handful of jigs are all that’s required to catch panfish. Trout can be fussy eaters, but flies, inline spinners, small crankbaits, and a chunk of nightcrawler worked along the edges of stream structure or in deeper pools have all fooled their share of fish.
If largemouth bass are your target, try topwater lures. Recently, bass were literally jumping out of the water to snag the dragonflies that were flying inches above the surface. Soon, the scenario will be repeated with mayfly hatches, and later this season bass will be targeting young leopard frogs in the shallows.
If northern pike are patrolling the area – and there probably will be some within casting distance – a spoon could be more than they can resist. Just hang on and enjoy the battle.
When fishing streams and smaller lakes, quality waders are nice to have, especially during the early season when the water is still cold. Waders usually have pockets, giving you quick access to bait, a few extra jigs, and a hook remover, and the straps are the perfect place to attach your stringer. Waders also can extend your casting range by putting some distance between you and shoreline obstacles.
A backpack is also helpful for carrying insect repellent, extra line, split shot, plastics, and other gear, and also for transporting the day’s catch.
Keep everything simple, enjoy the experience, and don’t be in a hurry when you’re wading. A false step can lead to a fall, and that can lead to an unexpected bath and a premature end to your fishing outing.
Fish, especially largemouth bass and trout, also easily spook in the shallows, so when the water is calm or the current is slow, fish in stealth mode. You’ll be surprised by how many large fish utilize the water near shore, and they didn’t grow big by being careless.
On some of the smaller lakes, the shoreline-fishing window can be brief, but now is the perfect time to head to the water. Insect hatches attract fish, and the hatches are in full swing because of the warm water. Lily pads and other vegetation haven’t overtaken the shallows in most cases, but in another few weeks many shorelines will be too clogged to fish effectively.
Another benefit: Glimpses of wildlife going about their daily routines, unaware of your presence, can be memorable.
Continually staring at electronics, constantly working a trolling motor remote, and fiddling with batteries are all part of the modern-era fishing experience. But, if you want a change of pace, consider returning to a simpler time. Put your waders in the back seat, grab a dozen worms and a few small jigs, head to that small lake that you drive past every day, and wade along the shoreline.
You might be surprised by what you find.