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Otter Tail County (February 7, 2022)

Are the mid-winter blues getting you down or are your favorite fish being a lot more difficult to catch this year than in the past?  Have you ever tried to target tullibee?  The Otter Tail County is home to some of the best tullibee lakes in the state and for a decent amount of time even held the state record.  What is a tullibee?  It is a member of the whitefish family also known as a Cisco and tastes amazing smoked but some people bake, grill and even pickle them.  In most lakes they stay 8-12 inches long but in our area of Otter Tail County you can find them breaking 20 inches from time to time.  Not all lakes have them but some lakes in the region have huge populations and since they school together it’s not uncommon to have multiple fish on in your group at the same time. 

ice fishing for tullibee

This past weekend we decided to go test our favorite tullibee holes and it didn’t take long to find them and once we narrowed down what they wanted we were quickly catching fish and having a fun time.  Tullibee love deep cold water so if you have Navionics search areas 35-85 feet of water, and yes that 85 was NOT a typo.  Usually, they are suspended and this weekend they were coming through 25-45 feet average, but some were flying up from 65-70 feet up to our lures in 50 chasing our lures.  We ended up catching around 18 of them between the two of us but when we shut down at 11:30 to go eat there were still four on the Marcum when I shut it down.

We were sitting in some deep holes just off shoreline that got down near 80 feet of water with most of our fish coming through 35-55 feet but if we had marks 20-30 feet down, they tended to be a lot more aggressive and more willing to bite.  Watch your graph and if you have a fishing partner near call out the depth of your marks so the other person can adjust accordingly to try and improve the odds of catching.  In the winter we can use two rods but during tullibee season I find it better to have one rod and focus on that one lure and having a reel with a high speed retrieval is ideal.

Targeting a fish that lives that deep is unique because they can be in 5 feet of water, and they can be sitting feet off bottom in 90 so where do you start?  I focus on holes with structure near them like islands, narrows or deep holes adjacent to shoreline breaks.  I’ve used the terms “Funnel Areas” before and I’ll use it again.  They are always suspended and are constantly swimming and that’s why I look for funnel areas in deeper water.  Using your graph once you start seeing marks, they usually come through in the same depth areas.  Tullibee fishing is a lot of fun and can be a fun family activity for all ages.  The more people you have in an area fishing seems to help attract more fish to your area.

Tullibee lures are unique and can vary from lake to lake and you probably already have them sitting in your tacklebox.  The typical tullibee setup has a flasher (daredevil, kastmaster, Swedish pimple, Leech Flutter Spoon with the hooks removed) with 12-18 inches of line to a typical 4-5 mm tungsten jig tipped with soft plastics (Panfish Pirate Ripper or Sailor) tipped with wax worms.  This past weekend we had best luck on a 4.5 Panfish Pirate Raptor jig with a white or pink Ripper and Sailor plastic with a few wax worms added for scent.  I like this style jig because of the angle of the hook and it helps with better hook sets.  Tullibee do not have teeth so thick line is not needed but you will need plenty of line on your reel to get down deep.  I like 4-6 pound test on my main line and some people use braid for less stretch but for the line between the spoon and the jig I do like 6-8 pound test.  Reason why is like the line a little stiffer because as it drops too thin of line and I tend to tangle my jig up in my spoon but when I have stiffer line I have better luck of that not happening.  Another reason for the thicker line is when they get to your hole they will do the typical northern pike barrel roll and if I have thick enough line I grab my spoon and pull the fish up onto the ice instead of trying to scoop the fish up and out of the hole.   A secret tip that I do is add a slip bobber stopper about 50 feet up my line and the reason why is if I find the fish are coming through a certain depth, I set that slip bobber stopper on my line and have it as a set point to stop letting line out.  As you drop your spoon your lure will probably leave the cone of your graph and the stopper gives you a starting point to know you have let out enough line.

If you are thinking this sounds like a fun time but you do not have a smoker a few of our local butcher shops brine and smoke tullibee for a fee cheaper than I can doing it at home.  I have had good luck with Ketter’s in Frazee, and I’ve had friends take them to Perham and Detroit Lakes in years past.

We have some amazing bait shops in the area that can help point you to the community holes on lakes and if you go into the Dent bait shop the Pirate Corner has a section dedicated to tullibee spoons and lures to make it easier for shopping.  If you are looking for a guided trip, I offer trips dedicated to chasing them and a few other local guides offer trips also if you ask for them.  It can be an absolute blast and since tullibee do not have a season or limit in our area so it can be a fun activity when the walleye season closes, and we can catch them right up to ice out on our local lakes.