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I have been a runner for as long as I can remember, and by runner I don’t mean that I wake up early every morning to jog 2 miles.  What I mean is that any chance I get to get away and go exploring, I take it.  My parents were far from neglectful, and kept a close eye on me, but before I can even remember I still managed to sneak off to see what there was to see in the neighborhood as often as I could escape.  They couldn’t turn their back on me for a second.  The desire to get away and find something new is engrained deep within my soul.  I think some call it wander lust.

I've Been Searching High and Low

I’ve Been Searching High and Low

Fishing has always been a huge part of my life, and as I grew up my wander lust gave me a propensity to always look for new fishing spots.  Growing up in northern WI gave me great areas to explore for musky, trout, salmon, walleye, bass, and panfish.  Often I would have my dad drop me off early in the morning at a bridge on a creek or river with nothing but my rod, waders, and a back pack full of tackle, water, and a little food.  At dark I would have him pick me up at a crossing 10-15 miles upstream.  If fishing was good (and mostly it was) I was way late making it to the extraction point; leaving my dad to wonder in the darkness what could have happened to me.  A majority of his gray hair is undoubtedly my fault.  Along the way, my only company was the wild animals that also used the watershed, and the fish within that kept me coming back time and time again.

Many anglers seldom stray from the comfort zone of their home waters, but going out in search of new spots is what I live for.  Sure I have spots that I love and go back to again and again, but the allure of the unknown calls to me like no other.  It’s the promise of greener pastures, the promise of undiscovered monsters, the promise of a better day.  It is the myth of el dorado, that magical place that no one knows about, waiting to be discovered by the angler with the fortitude to find it and the skill to unlock its treasure (i.e. me).

Call me childish.  Say I am out of touch with reality.  Call me whatever you like, but the fact of the matter is that I take my fishing when, where, and how I want; and at the age of thirty I have a better repertoire of productive waters than many anglers will build in a lifetime.  It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, or what is going on with the weather.  More often than not, I can find biting muskies as long as I have the time, money, and necessary resources.  I have great spots for other species as well.

When I explore, I don’t always have great success.  Sometimes what I encounter is a straight up bust, but often times I find great populations of fish that receive much less pressure than those in more popular waters.  I often get the “who told you” look from local anglers fishing these “secret” waters.  That is if I see anyone at all.  Also, getting away from the crowds puts me in some of the most picturesque angling locales I have ever seen.  Places most people don’t know exist and will never lay eyes upon.

My adventures always start with home work.  Almost every night before I go to sleep I read my state atlases, lake maps, lake information books, and print outs of DNR surveys.  The floor on my side of the bed is a chaotic pile of fishing information.  Usually, what I look for are “out of the way” bodies of water that I think have or could have solid populations of my target specie.  I look for lack of quality access.  If a body of water is accessible only on foot, through a difficult landing, or by floating up or down a small creek or river; then the chances of it having strong populations of lightly pressured gamefish are pretty good.

Remote under-utilized lakes, flowages, and reservoirs are harder to come by than remote underutilized streams and rivers.  Most lakes, large rivers, and flowages are at least fairly accessible for most anglers, and therefore will have at least moderate fishing pressure.  In moderate to high pressure scenarios, smaller bodies of water will most often provide average results at best.  Larger bodies of accessible water will usually hold up to pressure better, but they do not meet my criteria of remote adventure fishing.  Medium to small Rivers and streams on the other hand often wind through miles of remote country between any type of access point, giving gamefish within a nearly constant refuge from fishing pressure.  These environments are often high in water quality, suitable habitat, and forage abundance; and therefore usually have great gamefish populations consisting of many quality individuals.

Rivers and streams are usually only underutilized if they cannot be effectively and safely navigated up and down stream by a boat with an outboard motor.  This means that they will have many shallow, fast, rocky, and/or wooded areas.  These rivers and streams are best fished on foot or by floating a canoe or small flat bottomed boat downstream from one access to another.  It takes extra time and effort to make these trips, and conditions can definitely get sketchy from time to time, which is exactly why these waters are underutilized.

Forty years ago and beyond, these waters were comparatively easier to access than large lakes because larger safer long range boats were much harder to come by.  Boats to safely and efficiently fish waters of 500 acres and up were simply not available to most anglers, so smaller waters were the only option.  Anglers could fish on foot or do float trips in the small water craft that were much more readily available.  Fast forward to modern times, and reliable long range boats are basically dime a dozen.  A large portion of anglers own boats capable of comfortable fishing trips on large easily accessible waters.  Because of this, the small out of the way waters have become less pressured because now they are the most difficult to access.  It is a simple matter of convenience and most anglers will go for the easiest and most comfortable opportunity to fish.

Of course, exploratory fishing doesn’t have to take place on remote underutilized resources.  Fishing a popular body of water is exploring if I have never fished it before.  Learning any new body of water is exciting and will lead to more productive fishing in the future.  Every individual body of water and the fishery it contains is unique and therefore responds to seasonal change and current weather conditions in its own way.  Once these patterns are documented on various waters and a repertoire of different waters is established, the chances of finding a good “bite” becomes easier under any given set of conditions.  The larger the repertoire and documentation I have, the better the chance I have of finding fish that are “on”.

As I mentioned earlier, I have regular waters that I love and when the right conditions occur, I can usually do very well on at least one of them.  However, I only have these waters because I explored them at one point.  The more I explore, the more options I have.  The most important thing to keep in mind when exploring, is to have an open mind.  Some of the best fisheries I have found were those that weren’t supposed to be that good.  I don’t believe what I hear, I believe what I see.