Fishing Patterns Of Lake Vermilion
Walleyes are the most popular species for our fishing guests, and with good reason. Lake Vermilion has an excellent walleye population, with fish of all sizes present in good numbers. They put up a good fight on light line, and make for a tasty shore lunch or evening meal accompanied by fried potatoes and onions, pork & beans and canned fruit for dessert.
In spring, walleyes spawn either in incoming rivers with rocky shoals, or atop mainlake rock flats swept by wind and current, with water temperatures in the 40 Fs. Many fish tend to linger around such spots until the water temperature reaches about 55 F. Casting a ¼-ounce jig tipped with a minnow or softbait, swimming the jig or lift-dropping it on and off bottom back to the boat, is often all you need to catch fish at this time. As an alternative, try casting or longline trolling 4- to 5-inch minnowbaits through the shallows, targeting about 4 to 8 feet. As postspawn walleyes disperse
As postspawn walleyes disperse back into the mainlake, look for them along the first major points, islands or rock reefs adjacent to their spawning sites, initially focusing your efforts at about the 10- to 20-foot level. Vertically jig jig & minnow combos, or backtroll livebait rigs tipped with shiners, tapping the sinker on and off bottom. The tips of underwater structures, and irregularities along the dropoff to deeper water, tend to concentrate fish.
As summer arrives in earnest, expect some walleyes to drop deeper, down to as much as 35 or 40 feet. Not all, however; some linger along the deep outer edges of mainlake weedbeds, where trolling a bullet sinker/spinner rig tipped with a nightcrawler covers water, using speed and flash as added triggers to catch fish. Try a similar rig on a heavy (2- to 3- ounce) bottom bouncer or three-way rig for fishing deeper if needed. If the fish are finicky, however, switch to a 3-ounce bottom bouncer rig, using a curved “Slow Death” hook, to fish slowly, tapping the wire feeler of the bouncer on and off bottom while the baited hook flip flops and spins a half-crawler threaded onto the bent hook, tempting reluctant biters to respond.
By fall, Vermilion walleyes may drop even deeper, with 40 feet plus not unusual. Beefing up your jig size to ½-ounce or so and tipping with a minnow, or vertically jigging a # 7 or #9 Jigging Rapala does the trick. Be sure to tie a barrel swivel into your line about 16-18 inches above the Jigging Rapala to eliminate line twist. Caution: Walleyes caught this deep may not be releasable; if the fish are stressed, keep just enough for a meal if desired, and then switch to fishing for alternative species. We have lots of ‘em!
Muskies are targeted by the most hardcore of our angling clients, willing to put in long hours casting large lures to trigger follows and provoke strikes. We’re pleased to say that Vermilion’s muskie population ranks among the best in the state for both numbers and size, with extremely large fish available. In other words, this is the place to come not just to get bit, but for a good shot at a giant.
Unlike pike, muskies do not spawn at ice-out in the back ends of marshy bays. Rather, they’re more likely to spawn in 5 feet or so of water atop weedgrowth in the back-center portions of bays, with water temperatures in the mid-50 Fs. For the first few weeks of the season, tossing small bucktails in bays and along shorelines leading back into the main lake are perhaps your top options.
Once summer arrives, muskies are likely to be found according to two primary patterns—weeds or rocks—and not necessarily at the same time. Often, one excels over the other. Thus, when you come to Vermilion, spend some time casting and looking at areas with large mainlake weedbeds along shorelines or around islands, and at rock-and-boulder reefs and island complexes with immediate access to deep water. Often, your first morning of fishing will reveal enough follows by curious fish to indicate whether weeds or rocks with be the focus of your fishing the next few days.
As far as which lures to use, that’s where your personal preferences and the fish’s current interests coincide. Large bucktails, giant crankbaits, topwaters, magnum softbaits, classic jerkbaits—they all have excellent potential. The best bet is to experiment with all lure styles in different color patterns, and see if the fish indicate a preference by following or striking.
As curious fish that like to suspend near the surface, muskies routinely follow your lures to the boat, even when not necessarily active. A fish following 5 feeet behind your lure may not bite, while one nipping at the strands of your bucktail may be triggered at the last second by a figure 8 maneuver at boatside. Regardless, once you’ve spotted fish in certain areas, punch in the coordinates on your GPS, and return to the spot several times during the day to try to intercept them when they are actively feeding. Low light levels at dusk and dawn, and especially approaching storm fronts (safety first—avoid lightning!) often turn passive followers into savage biters. MUSKIES
Vermilion’s deep waters, lush weedbeds and plentiful forage base grow northern pike to huge proportions. Few places in the state rival our potential to grow pike surpassing the 20-pound mark. Plus, there are loads of pike in the 10- to 20-pound range, and plenty of smaller fish that make a good alternative shore lunch if you fillet out their Y bones prior to cooking.
As mentioned earlier, pike are already spawning in the back ends of marshy bays even as the ice goes out. For the first month or so of the season, they will periodically move in and out of these bays, either feeding on ciscoes suspended outside the bay mouths, or on miscellaneous smaller fish within the backs of bays themselves.
Early on, fairly slow retrieves with ½-ounce spinnerbaits, 4-inch spoons, large crankbaits (both suspending and floating-diving), large unweighted softbaits, and flyfishing excel for both numbers and giants in the shallow back ends of bays. As the water warms, add a bit of action to your retrieves. Example: When using spoons, interrupt the retrieve 2 or 3 times per cast by popping your rod tip upward, and then letting the lure flutter down for a few seconds to trigger strikes from following pike.
By late spring and early summer, the largest pike will be spending more time on mainlake weed flats and shallow rock bars adjacent to the deepest mainlake basin. Casting many of the same lures as used earlier excels for fish of all sizes.
Once the water temperature reaches about 70 F, the largest pike tend to drop down into deep water (35-40 feet) to escape uncomfortably warm temperatures. Here, they feed on ciscoes and whitefish. To catch them, vertically jig a 1- to 2-ounce white jig tipped with a large white softbait, up and down near bottom, anywhere you see large fish on your depth finder. The tips of long point and edges of mainlake reefs are great spots. Also try longline trolling very deep-diving large crankbaits that reach down to the 35-foot level.
At the end of summer, cooling water temperatures draw big pike shallow again, up into mainlake weedbeds and onto rock points and reefs, where either casting or longline trolling large lures produces big fish.
Visiting anglers are often surprised at the caliber of our crappie population, where limits of slab crappies are the rule, rather than the exception. Fish pushing the 1 ½- to 2-pound mark are common amongst your catch. Crappies also are delicious, providing a tasty alternative to walleyes when they hit the frying pan.
In spring, crappies move into shallow bay areas where flooded wood and reeds are present. Early on, flooded trees are usually the best fish attractors, since weed cover mashed flat by recent ice offers little protection for spooky crappies. Set up a cast length away from such cover, and pitch a small 1/32-ounce jig about 16 inches below a thin balsa float up near the edge of the cover. Let it dangle awhile, occasionally twitching the bait to entice fish to move out to the edges of the cover.
As water temperatures rise into the 50 Fs, many crappies will shift to reed cover for eventual spawning purposes, but not just any reeds will do. Cruise the outer edges of reedbeds on calm, sunny days, peering into the water with polarized sunglasses. You’re looking for areas with a combination of bent and broken reeds, darker bottom, and the dark profiles of crappies lurking within the cover. Once found, back off a short distance, and cast similar jig and bobber combos as used earlier into pockets, lanes and edges of the reeds. Switch to a slip float for fish that are deeper than about 3 ½ feet, which is a more snag-resistant setup than a traditional float. Similar to largemouths, once fish are hooked, quickly lift them up and outside the cover, then fight them adjacent to it so they can’t tangle and break off your line in the reeds.
Spawning usually takes place with water temperatures around 60 F. Once crappies disperse from spawning sites, they begin to school and suspend along points at or near the mouths, typically somewhere from 10 to 20 feet beneath the surface. Don’t fish on the bottom at this time, or you’ll be below the fish. Instead, when you seed suspended fish on your electronics, cast a 1/16-ounce jig out across the school, and count it down, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, etc.; the small jig sinks about 1 foot per second, and you want it to reach a level at or just above the top of the school. Then retrieve it back slowly and steadily, with minimal action, enticing fish to rise up and smack it. Done properly, you can quickly limit out on bunches of slab-sided crappies. On 4-pound-test and medium-light tackle, they provide a good tussle and loads of fun for the family and serious anglers alike.
In fall, crappies continue using many of the same areas as in summer, but tend to drop close to the bottom, forming huge mega- schools with hundreds of fish in perhaps 30 to 40 feet of water. Vertically fish an 1/8-ounce jig, touching it on and off bottom, or just about the fish’s level if they appear a few feet off bottom on your electronics
Lake trout are not present in Lake Vermilion, although you can take a short rail portage into Trout Lake to get in on laker and walleye action, with a good chance of catching big fish of both species.
In early spring, lake trout roam mainlake shorelines, remaining fairly shallow—often 15 feet or less—until the surface water temperature rises to about 55 F. Simply longline troll large wobbling spoons or magnum crankbaits along shore and around the perimeters of midlake islands that drop off into adjacent deep water. Add a 1- to 2-ounce Rubbercor sinker to your line about 4 feet ahead of the lure if you think you need to fish a little deeper to trigger strikes.
Once the water warms sufficiently, lakers head for the depths, preferring the colder water available in 40, 60, even 80 feet or more. Thus, summer trout fishing requires tactics allowing you to fish extra deep.
Vertically jigging 1-ounce white jigs tipped with large white softbait tails is perhaps the easiest method to employ. Freespool the lure to bottom, engage the reel, and then bounce the lure up and down a few times. Reel up 8 to 10 feet, and repeat. Again. Lake trout notoriously follow lures up off the bottom to strike midway between the surface and the bottom—or even as you lift your lure out of the water next to the boat!
Or, try three-way rigging a flutterspoon or large minnowbait on a 5-foot leader, with a 3-foot dropper line off your three-way swivel to a 5- to 8-ounce weight. Troll along just fast enough to wobble the lure, lift-dropping the sinker on and off bottom to make sure you’re in the fish zone. You can experiment with additional trolling hardware like downriggers or Dipsy Divers to troll your lures deep, but they are seldom required.
Finally, lake trout pull a late-fall switcheroo by moving shallow to spawn atop midlake gravel reefs somewhere around October 1st. If you’re up for an adventure, dress warmly, and cast jigs or crankbaits up shallow to get jolted by these powerful fighters.
Vermilion has long been known as one of Minnesota’s top smallmouth bass fisheries, providing loads of action and potential trophies nearly everywhere throughout the lake. Smallmouths are also feisty, willing biters that respond to a wide variety of tactics throughout the fishing season. The key is usually being in the right places at the right times of year, and then just getting something tempting in front of their noses to garner strikes.
Vermilion’s best year-‘round smallmouth areas offer a combination of sandy spawning bays, rocky shorelines and a network of extended points, islands and rock reefs extending out into the midlake. Such areas allow fish to move shallow for spring spawning, and then most (although not all fish) to work their way out the deeper midlake afterward. Look for fish in less than 10 feet of water in spring, perhaps 5 to 15 in summer, and as deep as 25 to 30 by fall.
In very early spring, smallmouth bass become surprisingly active, even with water temperatures in the 40Fs. At first, they move atop mainlake boulder flats and bars to feed. Make long casts with neutrally-buoyant minnowbaits (jerkbaits), pumping the lure a couple of times to attract fish, and then pausing 10 to 15 seconds for them to examine the lure and become interest and agitated enough to bite. It’s a great way to cover water and establish areas with numbers of active fish. Eventually, many of these fish may penetrate into bays and begin seeking shallow nesting sites with sand/rock bottom, along with additional cover like flooded wood or reeds.
Once water temperatures rise into the upper 50 Fs, smallies begin constructing nests, and become very defensive, as opposed to aggressive. Now, they may ignore a minnowbait passing overhead, yet still fall prey to a tube jig or flutterworm dropped downward to rest in or near their nesting sites. As the fish begin actually spawning, we encourage anglers to leave them along and fish for other species while bass defend their nests and fry, up until the point they abandon the nesting sites in favor of summer feeding areas.
As postspawn smallies disperse back toward the mainlake, swimming jigs and 4-inch grubs in steady fashion triggers strikes from fish that like to feed upward. Later, as schools begin to reform and fish begin aggressively feeding in earnest, a wide array of lures come into play: topwaters, small crankbaits,#2 straight-shaft spinners, jigs & grubs/tubes/worms, spinnerbaits—you name it. Experiment to see what bass prefer on a daily basis. Under cold front conditions, slip bobbers baited with leeches do the trick.
By fall, smallies begin dropping deeper and schooling heavily off the ends of reefs or points extending down into 30 to 40 feet of water. Livebait rigging with chubs, vertically jigging hair jigs, or jigging Jigging Rapalas does a real number on fall smallies.
While smallmouth bass tend to draw most of the bassin’ attention, Vermilion is also home to a surprising number of big largemouth bass, with fish of 5 to 6 pounds not uncommon. Interestingly, you seldom catch largemouths in the same areas as their close cousins, smallmouth bass. But if you know where to look, your chances of connecting with bigmouths are better than you might expect.
Lake Vermilion’s largemouths tend to cluster in the back ends of bays with assorted weed, flooded wood, lily pads and reeds. Fishing for them is a very visual experience, casting into thick cover with snag-resistant lures like jig & plastic trailer combos, weedless spoons, large Texas-rigged softbaits and such. Use stout flippin’ rods spooled with heavy line to jerk fish up and out of the cover before they realize what hit them, and then fight them in the adjacent open water.
While shoreline cover is usually the main attraction for largemouths, some bays find the fish also using coontail weeds lying a short distance outside shoreline cover. Here, try a variety of lures including tandem spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, topwaters, shallow-running crankbaits, swim jigs tipped with soft plastic trailers, etc. Inside weededges often outproduce outside weedlines for largemouths; bass set up along the inside edge, while pike and muskies are more likely to relate to the deeper outside edge.
Largemouths provide a pleasant diversion from deeper fishing tactics for other species, and back bays provide a good escape from wind and waves on days when the wind kicks up on the main lake.
THE VERMILION RIVER
The scenic Vermilion River, the outflow from Lake Vermilion, lies a mere stone’s throw from the lodge, and offers a variety of fishing patterns for walleyes, pike, bass and occasionally, a rogue muskie or two. There are loads of places for you to fish for your favorite species. Enjoy a peaceful day on the river with friends or families for a change of pace from fishing the lake, or to avoid rough conditions on windy days.
Current is king on the river, with gamefish lining up along the edges of current seams, eddies, flooded wood and shoreline vegetation, rocky points and shoals, islands, narrows, pools—you name it! There’s always something new and exciting luring around the next bend.
Walleyes are likely to hang out in deeper stretches where current funnels around bends, adjacent moderate current that funnels food right past their noses. Vertical jigging is usually the easiest and most effective way to catch ‘em. You’ll probably catch a few casting crankbaits to exposed rock banks and midriver shoals as well.
Speaking of exposed rocks…where you see boulders, smallmouth bass are are likely to pounce on that same crankbaits— or a spinnerbait, topwater, jig—you name it! Also look for bass lurking withing flooded fallen trees and brush lining the riverbank, especially during high-water conditions. During low water, the rocky center portions of the river usually draw more bronzebacks.
For pike, fish anything that looks fishy, meaning flooded shoreline weeds, aquatic weedgrowth, the mouths of bays, creek inlets and such. Yet the fact is, with bigger pike likely to chow down on small walleyes or bass, you’re just as likely to tag into a big pike while fishing for walleyes in their traditional hangouts.
The same goes for muskies, although by and large, expect to encounter them along the edges of deeper river habitat, rather than way back in the back ends of bays with heavy weedgrowth. Muskies are big fish that need a little room to move, although they do relate to flooded shoreline cover, particularly when the river is high and the water flows quickly past their ambush positions.
Whatever species you target, you’re likely to catch ‘em all during a day’s fishing. That, and the peaceful majesty of flow winding it’s way through the remote, pristine landscape make for a memorable day on the water.