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Dock Talk: Time is tight for landing big fish

Deep water basin areas that are well known for producing crappies and bluegills also have great potential for big northern pike. Yet, the remainder of the big fish season is short and culminates after February 24. Photo by Jason Durham, for the Park Rapids Enterprise

The big game season for walleye, northern pike and bass is close to closure. After Feb. 24, intentionally attempting to catch any of those species will be off limits. Yet there's still time to catch a trophy.

Current conditions are perfect for landing the walleye of a lifetime.

Since walleyes are preparing for reproduction that will take place in about 75 days, give or take a week, they are currently feeding heavily, especially the large females, attempting to support their development of eggs. A fully mature female walleye in the 4-6 pound range can produce approximately 250,000 eggs, though not the entire number of offspring will hatch or survive. Mortality for newborn walleye is actually quite high.

However, if anglers want to catch the biggest walleye of their lives, now is the time to capitalize on opportunity. Walleyes are thick in circumference due to their gestation and some of the largest female walleyes of the year are available right now.

Yet if you happen to catch a monster walleye, you should think twice about keeping it. Genetics that could be passed on to future year classes is probably worth more than having the actual fish attached to your wall. That's one reason lifelike, fiberglass reproductions have become so popular. A talented taxidermist can produce a fish that looks identical to the one you caught, yet the actual fish remains swimming in the lake. It's a win-win.

Northern pike are also in the process of producing eggs and late season pike are FAT! One tip is to fish for them in deep water areas where suspended crappies and bluegills dwell. Anglers often catch panfish in the basin areas, which extend to 20, 30, even 40 feet. Those deep-water panfish are totally dependent upon zooplankton as a food source.

Zooplankton is microscopic, not something we could buy as bait in the tackle shop and is crepuscular, meaning it is most active around sunrise and sunset.

When the zooplankton is active, you can see it on the screen of your Vexilar flasher. They look like a band of flashing lights, nothing staying beneath the transducer long enough to be identified as a fish. It almost looks like interference, but don't be fooled, this is the fishes' food and when discovered is a prime indicator of fish nearby.

Catching pike in these deepwater areas is a good bet, though you won't have to target northerns near the bottom where they would typically roam.

Big pike are ready to eat just a couple feet below the ice in deep water. Pike pay no attention to the zooplankton that the panfish love, but northerns will readily eat the crappies and bluegills themselves that fail to survive the ascent from deep water.

While the panfish try to re-establish their bearings, swimming sideways as their air bladders try to compensate for the sudden change in pressure after anglers rapidly reel them to the hole, the pike easily grab them for dinner as they struggle in a disoriented state.