By Tim Lesmeister
The smallmouth bass fishing started out tough this year in Chequamegon Bay. My milk run of spots that always produce were unkind to me, but I figured out the problem. I decided to take an underwater camera into the bay and look for myself to see what had changed. That was a couple months ago and now I enjoy viewing productive structure as much as the fishing.
On a trip recently with three other anglers in my boat, I didn’t even pick up a rod. When we arrived at the first spot I grabbed an Aqua-Vu HD 10i Pro and sent down the camera. The water in Chequamegon Bay this summer has great visibility so the camera can see a good distance.
Because of that added visibility I noticed immediately the vegetation is more dense and it has grown higher than I’ve seen it on this spot before. There were lots of minnows swimming around and I spotted a couple of smallmouth bass immediately. Those were the only bass I saw for the next hour, but I did see lots of pike. I tied on some heavier fluorocarbon line and raised the hooks on the drop-shot rigs to 20 inches and added a heavier weight so the anglers could fish straight down. They immediately began catching nice pike on the suckers we were using for bait.
The trick was to get the minnows to the top of the vegetation and make sure the rigs didn’t get snagged in the cabbage but could slip around the stalks of vegetation. The anglers would get hung up occasion, but generally the rigs worked well and stayed weed-free.
The next spot we went was deep and there looked to be some big schools of baitfish on the sonar in those depths. When I sent the camera down I discovered those baitfish actually were clouds of spiny water fleas. The hooks on the sonar that might have been fish hovering by the spiny water fleas were actually cabbage leaves on sparsely spaced plant that were about 18 inches high. There were no fish there and the anglers didn’t catch anything.
Heading back into shallower water I saw what looked to be a patch of vegetation about six feet below the start of a drop-off in about 18 feet of water. Sending down the camera resulted in a screen showing lots of thick green cabbage and northern pike. The stalks were about two feet long so we moved the hooks on the rigs once again to put the minnows right above the vegetation. Every pass for a half dozen drifts resulted in a pike or two from this cabbage patch.
I’m becoming a viewing addict, and I love it. I’m not guessing what is on the sonar. Now I know. I have ventured into Chequamegon Bay a half dozen times in the past month and never picked up a rod. I’ve become the viewmaster and the net man for those who join me. I have even picked up small unit I use when kayak fishing. It has expanded my options on the water, and yes, I have found the smallmouth and have caught some bruisers thanks to my underwater eyes.