Seven for 7
In case you haven’t noticed, summer’s clipping along just a little too quickly. July is here and the heart of summer is upon us. Have you walked barefoot through the grass? Roasted marshmallows for a s’more? Watched for falling stars? Those are suggestions you can do anywhere, but once again we’ve assembled ideas unique to the Iowa Great Lakes. For the 2019 installment of Seven for 7 we introduce you to flavorful appetizers, spa treatments, men’s fashion essentials, places to hike, things to ride, fishing guides and rainy day activities for kids. Let the good times roll!
Fishing with the folks who know these waters
Several fishing guides ply their trade in the waters of the Iowa Great Lakes. They help their clients land the big ones and make memories that last a lifetime. And they know these waters better than anyone. We caught up with seven guides to learn what they enjoy so much about fishing and what makes these lakes so special.
1. Rod Blau
JigMup | 712-346-8454 | www.jigmup.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: My dad had done it for a long time and when I got out of the military he wasn’t really doing it any more so if guys wanted to go, we just went fishing. Then in 2009 I officially started JigMup guide service of Okoboji.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: For me - I grew up in Sibley - it used to be going to this old resort back in the day that used to be behind Mau Marine. Grandpa and Dad stayed there all the time and we would catch sheepshead, bullhead, stuff like that. And we would fish the sand pits in Sibley and some in Ashton. We rode our bikes to Ashton pulling a little carrier behind with our gear and would spend all day there and ride back at night.
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: I’ve had a couple where a client is reeling a bluegill or whatever and a muskie eats it beside the boat and they get to fight it for awhile. I’ve only got one into the boat. A lot of them get to fight for a long time and then the muskie decides to let go right when you get the net under them. The whole muskie thing in this lake is nice and gives it another dimension. To take someone out and catch the biggest fish they’ve ever caught — that’s pretty fun. It’s about that excitement. A lot of people don’t really get to do this like I get to do every day. A lot of people aren’t used to catching fish at all and whatever will take the bobber down is a big deal for them. I’m out here to have a good time and the more fish we catch the better it is. I want people to experience what Okoboji is all about. We have great fishing, great restaurants, great everything — you can’t beat it.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: I’m a muskie guy. I love chasing bass too, don’t get me wrong. I fish three muskie tournaments each summer in Wisconsin. If they’re going out here I fish them out here too. It’s the challenge. They’re just a tough fish to catch. They’re the apex predator so they eat when they want and eat what they want any time of day or night and if you’re not out there in that feeding window — tough luck. Bass we just go out and catch them. They pull hard and people love it.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: The whole thing for me is I got started because my dad loved doing this — taking people fishing. And I feel the same way. There is no more fun thing than having someone whack a big fish and getting to take a picture with them after they high-five their friends. There may be tough days but on West Lake Okoboji it’s hard to have a tough day — it’s just really that good. The structure and species it has is insane. Not many places have an ecosystem like we have here. Spirit grows fish fast. Center grows fish fast. West is not quite made up the same way but still builds fish and builds them quickly even with all the pressure it gets, especially in winter time.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: Slip bobbers are a great way to catch fish for rookies. I use them all the time out in deeper water when I know what depth I need the bait to be. The biggest thing to me is just to start somewhere. Right over the side with a pilkey is a great way to catch fish. If you have a depth finder start looking for the weeds. If you’re coming to Okoboji find the weeds and you’ll find bluegills.
2. John Grosvenor
JTG Expeditions/Fish Okoboji | 712-330-5815 | www.fishokoboji.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: This is my 19th season as a full-time guide.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: My passion for fishing came on the English River in Canada in Northwest Ontario. My dad was a school teacher, which left his summers open, so we would move up there and live in a resort camp. He worked as a dock hand and guide. This was the summers of my first- through fourth-grade years and I fished every day. If all the guides were taken guys would put me in their boat — I knew where all the hazards were — so I was kind of a guide in first grade!
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: It’s all about the people. I remember my first year doing this I had a family staying at Fillenwarth and I had my days mixed up. I was late to pick them up. I panicked and ran over there quick. Someone said they heard them talking about going under a bridge, so I searched every bridge until I found them and I said “hop in, we’re going fishing.” And they had the time of their lives and caught more fish than they could imagine. I told them I wouldn’t accept any payment because I was late, but they insisted anyway. Those boys were 9-10 years old and now they have kids of their own that they bring fishing with me. I’ve had a lot of families with me since the start and that’s one of the coolest things. There was another day I had a client call and say he wanted to take his boys fishing to catch a muskie. I said that’s probably not the best idea for young kids but I happened to be on a good bite that year so I said we could give it a try. And we got three muskies that day. I couldn’t believe it. I would’ve been happy with one and it’s very, very rare to get three. I found awhile after that that client had been battling cancer and had passed away. So that was a day given to us by God. It was just unbelievable. I’ll never forget that.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: Whatever’s biting, man! Okoboji is known for its big bluegills. People come from all over the country, especially in the winter, to fish big bluegills here. I love fishing for walleyes when they’re biting, but I hate when they’re not. The month of May is when I get my walleyes. People just want to feel that bite, they want to fight a fish, and want to be able to eat a couple. So, I love whatever’s biting. Different times of year that means different fish. Another thing about these lakes is you never know what could be on the end of the line. There are so many species. The most I’ve ever had on a guide trip was with a guy from Holland whose goal was to see how many species we could get in one trip. We got 11 species that day which was pretty cool.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: You’ve got a whole bunch of different lakes so if one lake isn’t going you can go to the next one and you’re going to find a bite somewhere. There are so many different ecosystems. My favorite is West. It’s a deep, clear spring-fed lake that is all about underwater structure. There is always someplace you can go and catch fish. The structure is something that people can find intimidating and things that work on other lakes don’t always really work here, but there is no reason to have a super tough day. If you switch gears soon enough you’re going to be catching fish. I love the clarity of the water. It’s so much fun to see the fish you’re fighting 20 feet down. And I’m intrigued by the people here. I love hearing their stories, to me it’s just fascinating and it’s these people that really make these lakes special. I love the company and meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing mine, and teaching people how to fish.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: On this lake I’ve found if you dangle live bait under a bobber long enough you’re going to catch something. If you stop at the bait shops they can tell you what parts of the lake have been better and help take out some of the guess work. And there’s the old expression “you can’t catch anything sitting on the couch,” so get out there and give it a try.
3. Shane Akin
Great Lakes Guide Service | 712-330-0085 | www.bojiguide.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: I guided part-time for close to 30 years and I have been full-time for the past five years.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: My dad was a well-known fisherman in the Midwest, so I grew up with it. I’ve been in a boat pretty much since I could be in one. My first real memory of fishing was when I was six years old. My family had a place on Leech Lake, MN, and I caught my first muskie. That always sticks out.
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: Client-wise I really enjoy when we have kids in the boat. Watching the smiles and seeing them learning — especially this day and age when most kids are on XBox or electronics — to get them in the boat where that’s all gone they get to see what nature’s about. A recent memory would be a six-year-old boy getting a 26-inch walleye. And about five minutes later he got a 24-inch walleye. We were panfishing last summer and I always put out slip bobbers because there’s always bass and walleyes and stuff roaming. You never know what’s going to grab it. I enjoy giving people the best experience on the lake that I can.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: My favorite fish is the muskie. It’s like hunting a big buck from a deer stand. You try to figure out the pattern and where they might be. You might fish five straight days and not see a fish and all of a sudden that sixth day you catch one and all that waiting goes away. They are the king of freshwater and to get one is a rush. I pride myself on being a multi-species guide. I’ll fish anything.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: West Lake Okoboji especially is a world-class fishery. It’s got everything from tremendous bluegill and crappie fishing to largemouth, smallmouth, walleye, muskies and perch. What makes it exciting is you’re always going to find something biting somewhere and you never know what’s going to show up. Last year, I had a muskie trip and on the second cast a 39-inch catfish nailed the bait just under the surface — stuff like that happens all the time on West.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: The best thing is to research. Go to the bait shops and start asking where they’re catching the crappies or the perch or whatever. A lot of people will steer you the right way. Fishing is just fun. Everybody loves to catch fish. I don’t care if you’ve never been fishing before — if that rod bends it’s a joy to see.
4. John Campbell
Campbell Fishing Expeditions | 239-860-0976 | www.campbellfishing.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: I have been guiding here for 10 years. I guide December through April down at Marco Island, FL. The funny thing is, my heart is more into the up north, so I joke with people that I leave 150-pound tarpons to come back north to catch 1-pound bluegills!
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: My relatives are from here, but I grew up in Chicago. My parents took me out when I was 2 to fish on West Okoboji docks for panfish. That’s what kind of got me into the whole fishing thing at a young age. Later on I got a competitive streak going and fished the In-Fisherman Pro Walleye Trail and FLW Outdoors for about 24 years.
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: I had a young guy, an 8-year-old, get what I called an “Okoboji Slam.” He caught a muskie, northern, largemouth, smallmouth and a walleye all in one day. He was dancing all around in the boat so that was pretty neat.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: I’m probably known more for the walleye just because it’s something I’ve pursued with vigor my whole life. If I’m not chasing walleyes I probably lean towards the toothy critters like the muskie and the northern.
Q: Congratulations on being inducted to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. What has that meant to you? A: It was very exciting to be honored with the guys that I’d grown up reading about. My college roommate Ted Takasaki made the hall too and was there to present it to me, so to have a lifelong friend there to present it was cool, too.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: The Iowa Great Lakes are some of the best fishing lakes in the world. You never know what you’re going to catch, which is part of the big excitement about fishing. The number of species and lakes peak at certain times so you can usually stay on a fairly hot bite.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler in Okoboji? A: I would go to the bait shops. They have knowledgeable personnel that will point you in the right direction. Moving around is a good thing. If something doesn’t work in 20 minutes it’s probably good to go somewhere else.
4. Darrin Jones
Big Fin Guide Service | 712-420-9972 | email@example.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: I’ve been guiding in the Iowa Great Lakes since 2011.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: My love for this area started when I was in junior high. My dad was a principal and every summer we’d stay at Village West. When I was 5-7 years old we lived in Nebraska for awhile and came up to the Lakes, or to Storm Lake and did a lot of shore fishing and that fueled my passion for it. So I’ve always liked to fish from a young age and somehow for a full-time job I ended up here working for the DNR for the wildlife section.
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: A couple summers ago we were not targeting them but actually caught a couple muskies — 38 and 40 inches — as we were slip bobber fishing bluegills out on the rocks. I enjoy passing knowledge on to someone else so they have the confidence to do it on their own. It’s a great way to educate kids about the outdoors, teach them about fishing. I like to give them something they can take to the dock and be successful as well. And it’s not just catching fish, it’s making memories for families. They’re able to start a tradition and come back every year for Fourth of July or Memorial Day and this is what they do.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: That’s a tough call because I like it all. I love the panfish, that’s probably right up there because of all the different ones we have in the lakes. Probably panfish, walleye, bass would be the order. And I also enjoy when people just want to troll and cover a lot of water, and you never know what could jump on there.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: The multi-species possibilities. We have had many times we’ve caught 7-8 species in one four-hour trip. The diversity of the lakes here too. You can get to all these different lakes in the same chain and show clients parts of the lakes they haven’t seen before.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: The biggest thing would be if you’re just looking to catch some fish - get an ultra light rod and slip bobber set up, and a black hair jig in this area will catch all kinds of fish. Tip it with a Belgium worm under a float around docks or structure and you’re going to catch fish.
6. Chad Loreth
Iowa Great Lakes Outdoors | 712-330-9678 | www.igloutdoors.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: I started in 2013 so this would be our 8th open water season.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: I grew up going to the Alexandria area in Minnesota to fish as a young kid with my family and grew up on slip bobbers and fishing walleyes. My brother and I would go all over the lake and fish. We got to explore a lot as kids and made a lot of great memories fishing that area. My wife Lisa — she owns half the business with me, she’s the boss! — and I met in Des Moines then ended up in Little Falls, MN, where I did a lot of fishing.
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: One of the most fun was with three brothers that typically book with me in the fall. We were fishing East Lake on a pretty good walleye bite and one brother was not doing so well. I told him to stick with it, things can change in a split second. Not long after that his rod doubles over and he looks at his brothers and says ‘sorry boys I’m taking this one.” Sure enough it’s a 28-inch, 8-pound walleye - pretty neat. There are lots of little stories like that. We’ve got great clients that come in as strangers and leave as friends. I’ve had a client who was one of the engineers for the stealth bomber. Last year I had an attorney who did some work for Clint Eastwood. You get to meet all kinds of people.
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: My goal to get people on fish and bending the rods and having a good time. I like walleyes and I like smallmouth. The walleye fishing here is pretty good without a doubt and there is something about walleyes in the summer. I like trolling crankbaits for them out deep, that’s a good time.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: First off it’s the best place in Iowa for panfish. The water clarity can make it challenging. What I’ve seen is if you can catch fish in Okoboji, especially West Okoboji, then you can fish about anywhere. To me I like the challenge of these lakes. Every year I learn something new, which is fun.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: For the first time — keep it simple. If you’re interested in targeting what I’d call really big fish or doing off-shore trips trolling then you’d want to go through a guide typically. But there are lots of opportunities to fish in Okoboji and about anywhere you’re going to go you’re going to catch fish most of the summer.
7. Doug Burns
The Iowa Guide | 712-209-4286 | www.fishnfunokoboji.com
Q: How long have you been a fishing guide? A: I started in 1986 but have gotten out a few times. I try to find real jobs but they don’t seem to fit me! So, 33 years for the most part. I’ve been here since 1999.
Q: What are your earliest memories of fishing? A: We lived in North Dakota when I was 4-8 years old. My best friend’s dad took us every other weekend. We trolled for pike in the summer and ice fished for perch in the winter. That’s what got me started. When I moved down here my aunt would take me fishing. Then it was strap the rods to the bike and ride to the local park to catch bullheads, bass and bluegill. As I got older it’s the challenge that kept it interesting. I always say two things keep a guy on the water — catching fish and not catching fish. When I’m not catching them I have to figure it out. I’m not leaving until I figure out something to make them bite. And of course when you’re catching fish you can’t leave then!
Q: What are some of your favorite fish stories from guide trips? A: When I was 26 I was hired as dock attendant at a resort on Lake of the Woods. I mowed lawns, carried luggage, cleaned lots of fish and whenever I had free time I would go fishing. There was one day the resort was full and all the guides were busy and these two old guys wanted to go out. The resort said, “Well, Doug here goes fishing all the time, he can drive you around and if you don’t catch anything you won’t have to pay for a guide.” I guided 26 straight days after that! The biggest joy is seeing people realize this is a constant thing. When people are new to fishing or say they never catch fish and then seeing the joy when they catch 20, 30, 40 fish in a day. They can’t believe it. I remember a young man who hooked into a big fish that turned out to be a 6-7 pound drum. When he finally saw the fish and we got it in, he did laps around the boat hollering full bore. His folks got it on video and it’s one of those special moments you always remember. I’ve had four generations in the boat together and maybe 30-60 people a year that have never caught a fish in their life — it’s great. Maybe 15 years ago I had a big family with three kids out bluegill fishing and they were laughing, having a great time. They said, “Doug, we’ve been on three deep sea fishing trips off Hawaii and never had this much fun catching fish!”
Q: What is your personal favorite fish to catch? A: Early season I chase smallmouth from ice out. They’re my pet fish. I get two times a year to fish mostly just for myself — April and again in late October/November. I’m chasing smallmouth then. They’re the hardest biters, they jump, they move a lot, can be persnickety, can be a challenge, and I just like the way they fight.
Q: What is it about these lakes that make them special? A: The joy of these lakes is the diversity we have here. I can walleye fish in the morning then go for largemouth in the afternoon. There is big panfish. We have world class largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing. We have an excellent bluegill fishery and crappies have come on strong the past few years. You can have your choice.
Q: What tips and advice would you give to a beginning angler coming to Okoboji? A: These are very good fisheries for the recreational angler early and late in the season. There are lots of shore opportunities. Then in the middle of summer these are tough lakes to target fish on a regular basis from shore. Then they want to look for current areas like bridges — that will help. The local bait shops are very good about keeping people informed on what the bite is, so talk to them. They’re all willing to help people that are fishing on their own.