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Big Spirit Lake, Iowa

The largest of Iowa’s Great Lakes, Big Spirit Lake got its name, according to legend, from an evil spirit that inhabited its waters. Featuring nearly 5,700 surface acres that can get awfully gnarly when the wind blows, it’s easy to understand how ancient natives believed in the lake’s ghostly guardian.

Modern anglers still must keep a weather-eye out and employ common sense on the lake, but if indeed there is a spirit involved, it must be the patron saint of sportfishing judging by the number of walleye anglers it attracts annually.

Spirit Lake’s average depth is around 17 feet and it has about 15 miles of shoreline, much of which has been developed for residential and recreational use. Near-shore structure abounds and the lake features several bays and coves that often remain fishable when wind whitecaps the main body.

Though large- and smallmouth bass, pike and muskies are present in fishable numbers, panfish and walleyes share the spotlight. And perhaps unique to Spirit Lake is the fairly large number of areas accessible to shore- and wade-fishermen who target walleyes, especially during the early and late seasons, according to Team Northland’s Spirit Lake sage Steve Weisman.

1. From the season opener through the first 3 or 4 weeks, try fishing from shore or wading The Footbridge and The Grade, on the north end of the lake, during the early and late low-light periods of the day. The Footbridge, the gap The Grade connects to the main lake, is a good spot, as are the area called Buffalo Run, just off Marble Lake, the Templar Cove area south of Buffalo Run, and Willow Row in the northeast corner of the main lake. Try casting an RZ Jig or Buck-A-Roo® Jig tipped with an Impulse® Smelt Minnow or live spottail shiner. The bite usually lasts until mid-June, according to Weisman, or until aquatic weeds grow tall enough to foul hooks on every cast.

Boat anglers during this time have good luck fishing deep rock piles, typically those from 18 to 22 feet deep. Try trolling or drifting a Slick-Stick Bottom Bouncer pulling a chartreuse, orange or pink Super-Glo® Attractor Hook and Salmon Bead on 5- to 8-foot leader at .7 to 1 mph. Start with the Smelt Minnow then move to the Impulse® Nightcrawler or Rig’n Leech.

2. From the opener through mid-June the shoreline night-bite lights up—literally. “Right at dusk you can see lighted bobber rigs being fished from docks all over the lake,” says Weisman. Boat anglers can join in, too, anchoring in 6 to 10 feet and fishing a live minnow or leech alongside the boat. Others prefer to troll crankbaits into the night. When mid-June hits, a daytime option is to run a spinner rig behind a ¼-ounce Rock-Runner® Slip Bouncer along and over the weeds. Baitfish Image® Blades in yellow perch and sunfish seem to produce best.

3. By July and August, the lake usually becomes a bit stained, according to Weisman. The best bet now, he says, is to fish deep weeds and rock piles scattered out to about 20 feet around Stoney and Little Stoney points and also out from Buffalo Run. It’s also a good time to catch yellow perch, so expect a mixed bag. Use a leech or ’crawler on a plain hook under a Lite-Bite Slip Bobber, or vertical jig a Buck-Shot® Rattle Spoon or Forage Minnow Spoon tipped with an Impulse® Jig’n Leech, or live bait.

4. From late August and into October many walleyes are caught by anglers trolling size 5 stickbaits in the main basin in 18 to 20 feet of water. Boost the trolling speed to 2.5 to 3 mph, he advises. As the weeds begin to die off, both boat and shore anglers also catch fish pitching jigs in the same areas on which they focused during the spring.

Lake maps courtesy of Navionics. For more information,

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