There is an incredible perch bite going on Big Stone Lake in northeastern South Dakota. For most of us, down here in Siouxland, that’s a news story. Who knew?
Gary Howey, of Hartington, Neb., and I fished there last week. We had been told the perch were going wild, so we had to find out. Guided by Artie Arndt, owner of Artie’s Bait and Tackle in Ortonville, and his fishing friend Eric Brandriet, Big Stone City, we soon learned the rumor was true.
I packed a bunch of spikes onto the single hook of my small ice fishing spoon and dropped it down into 9 feet of water. The depth finder showed the lure just off the bottom. I wiggled it a little bit and a fish showed up. Right away my bite indicator took a dip and I set the hook. Perch No. 1 popped out of the hole.
It was frigid outside. Temps in the teens. But we were in shirtsleeve comfort inside of one of five Ice Castle Ice Houses Artie rents to ice fishermen. A generator gives the house 110-volt power. The house we were in is 8 feet by 16 feet and sleeps four. He has four of them and one day house.
A 22-inch television sat on one of the counters, but we weren’t watching TV. The set was hooked up to an underwater camera that revealed schools of perch roving through, checking out our lures. Talk about entertainment.
We all caught several perch, and then the bite slowed. We soon found out why. A northern pike drifted by in front of the camera, his evil eyes sweeping the area, and disdained our lures. He was after bigger prey. Perch, for instance. And the perch knew it. They were gone.
But 15 minutes later the pike was gone and the perch were back. We were in action once again.
Big Stone has always been noted as a premier walleye lake. It’s also got good numbers of northern pike and big bluegills. But now perch are the big news.
“The perch really came on about three years ago,” Artie said. “The lake is just full of them of all sizes.”
And we were catching them. We did some sorting, releasing the little guys to grow some more, and our largest ranged up to a pound.
There didn’t seem to be a real hot lure. We caught them on a number of small ice fishing jigs and spoons. Most of the time we were using Lindy’s Rattl’N Flyer spoon and Frostee spoons in 1/16-ounce sizes.
We tipped them with spikes, which are larvae of the blow fly. For those of you who would like to know more about spikes, I’ll tell you this: They are the same maggots that show up on dead critters in the summertime. They are about a half-inch long and white with two small black eyes on their head. The head is kind of flat and hard and they should be hooked lightly between the black spots. They must be kept refrigerated or they will soon turn into a brown cocoon.
We were fishing the southern end of the lake just below Skeleton Island. There was no structure here, just the lake’s basin.
Big Stone is an interesting lake. It’s 26 miles long and averages about three-quarters of a mile wide. It has a maximum depth of about 16 feet and lots of rocks and gravel along the shorelines. It has five islands.
Also, at an elevation of 965 feet, it is the lowest point in South Dakota. It’s also the headwaters of the Minnesota River, which runs into the Mississippi. At the north end of the lake is the Continental Divide. Another long, narrow lake, Lake Traverse, sends its waters to the north into the Red River.
Fishing action is good on Big Stone, year around. In the spring, the focus is on walleyes.
“We get a hot walleye bite right off the bat,” Artie said. “We’re a border lake, so our walleye opening is three weeks before the Minnesota season opens. That allows us to jump right on the post-spawn bite. We get good numbers of males running along the shoreline, a lot of 14- to 20-inch fish. As the season progresses into mid-May, we get the post-spawn female bite with lots of 20- to 27-inch walleyes. There’s lots of walleyes of that size in the lake right now.
“The perch bite begins about the Fourth of July,” he continued, “and it goes on through the fall and winter. In the summer the walleyes go into the weedbeds. It can be tricky to catch them, but you just have to go in there for them.
“Our fall bite last year was just awesome, as was our shore fishing,” he said. “You can do just as well from the shore in the spring and the fall as you can in a boat.
“Last fall, right down in town, guys were getting dozens of fish averaging 20-plus inches,” he continued. “They cast mostly jig and minnow and plastics. That after-dark bite is kind of a local secret. The locals go down there about 10 p.m. and get a limit of walleyes.”
Howey and I fished only a day and a half but had no trouble filling limits of this tasty panfish. While there we stayed at Rustling Elms Resort in a lakeside log cabin. The resort features cabins and campground facilities on 2,000 feet of lake shore. It is three miles north of Ortonville on Highway 7. Check out the website at rustlingelmsresort.com
Headquarters for fishermen at Big Stone is Artie’s Bait and Tackle at the junction of state Highways 7 and 12. For up-to-date fishing information, visit artiesbait.com or call 320-839-2480.
There’s do doubt about it. Howey and I will return next summer to get in on some open-water perch action. We expect company because now the secret is out. Big Stone is a perch fisherman’s destination.
St. Cloud Times
Written byGlen Schmitt Times outdoors writer
Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 10:44 pm
As I peered down into the hole of our Ice Castle Ice House, the clarity of the water amazed me. We were on the south end of Big Stone Lake over ten foot of water and I was able to see my 1/16th ounce lure and the remaining vegetation lying on the bottom.
I looked away for a minute, checking to see how my fishing partners were doing, looking back, I glanced down at my Vexilar locator, when it suddenly lit up like a Christmas tree.
Peering back down into the water, I could see what was happening, as my lure was now surrounded by a school of perch.
I twitched the rod tip, once, then twice, gaining the attention of several fish. Raising the lure slightly, then letting it come to rest was all it took and the bite was on as a chunky perch grabbed the lure, allowing me to bring the first of many perch up into the house.
We were on Big Stone Lake, a twenty-six mile long body of water that forms the south Dakota-Minnesota border between Big Stone City, S.D. and Ortonville, Minn. The lake, long and narrow has 12,610 surface acres of water where there are two state parks with twelve public access points.
Since I was born and raised in northeastern South Dakota, I knew Big Stone as a walleye lake, which had a few perch. All that changed three years ago, with the perch population coming on, exploding with huge numbers of these fish now found throughout the lake.
The perch bite on the lake goes on throughout most of the year on the lake, beginning the first part of July and continues through the winter. This along with the early walleye bite on the lake makes Big Stone a four-season destination for those of us who enjoy the outdoors.
When Artie Arndt, Arties’s Bait Shop in Ortonville offered to have us up, it did not take Team Outdoorsmen Adventures Larry Myhre (Sioux City, Iowa) and I to decide as we packed our gear and headed north.
Artie’s, located right in Ortonville knows where the bite is at, has everything the angler could need, Vexilar locators, Jiffy ice augers, rods, reels, as well as all brands of tackle and bait.
We would be on the ice with Artie and Eric Brandreit, Big Stone City, fishing out of one of Artie’s rental Ice Castle Ice Houses and be headquartered out of the Rustling Elms Resort in their rental log cabin located right on the lake along the Minnesota side .
As we made our way out onto the lake, it was obvious something was going on as small communities of permanent and portable ice houses could be seen scattered across the lake.
Arriving at the icehouse we would be fishing out of, an 8′ X 16′ Mille Lacs Ice Castle, we would have a lot of room for our crew and the gear we brought with us. The house had all the comforts of home, thermostat forced air heat, microwave-Pizza oven, twenty-two inch TV/satellite, double futon, bunks with a bathroom all powered by a super quiet 2,000 watt-110 volt generator.
Even though it was cold and windy outside, inside the Ice Castle, we were able to fish without the heavy clothing we had brought with us.
The schools would move in under us on a regular basis, keeping us busy from the time we arrived until dark.
Our best baits were the Lindy-1/16th ounce Frostee Spoons and the small Rattlin Flyer Spoon tipped with spikes, a tough skin little wiggler similar to small maggots.
The perch which were continually on the move, moving in under our house to my left, where Artie was fishing, giving him the first shot at them, then over to me, onto Eric and then Larry. It was not uncommon for two or three of us to have perch on at the same time.
The perch were all sizes, with many of those we caught in the one-pound range and there were not many times when one of us did not have a fish on with very little time in between bites.
When the bite did stop for a short period, I wondered what had changed to move the perch out, as I glanced up at the big screen television, it became apparent they had vacated the area for good reason as a large northern pike nosed his way up to the underwater camera. Once the pike decided to move on to harass other schools of perch, the bite continued with our group ending up with a nice bunch of perch.
It was a great trip, with all the things making for a memorable trip, good people, a lot of water to explore and great fishing. It is an area, we plan to return to, in the near future, to return to take part in the open water perch and walleye bite this next spring.
When you are in the Big Stone area, check out the Rustling Elms Resort as they have cabins available as well as overnight campsites. You can contact them at (320) 839-3845 or on the web at http://www.rustlingelmsresort.com
Want more information on the perch bite on Big Stone, you can get all the up to date information at Artie’s Bait Shop 320-839-2480 or on the web at http://www.artiesbaitandtackle.com.
Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., is a former tournament angler, fishing and hunting guide. He is the Producer/Host of the award winning Outdoorsmen Adventures television series, seen on Fox affiliates throughout the upper Midwest. In the Yankton area, it airs on local channels 2 & 98 Saturday at 6:30 pm and Sunday at 7:00 am. It is also available on KTTW/KTTM-TV (Fox) Sioux Falls/Huron, S.D. Saturdays at 7:00 am as well as on MIDCO Sports Network Thursday at 5:30 pm and Sunday at 10:00 am. He and Simon Fuller are the hosts of the Outdoor Adventures radio program Monday-Saturday at 6:45 am on Classic Hits 106.3 and ESPN Sports Radio 1570. If you are looking for more outdoor information, check out http://www.outdoorsmenadventures.com