“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Most people are familiar with the proverb from the 12th century Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon. Mike Piccioli doesn’t have the words inscribed on his boat, but it might not be a bad idea; he lives it every day.
As the owner of Take the Bait Guide Service LLC, Piccioli has been teaching anglers to find and catch fish in Lake Minnetonka for nearly a decade. He’s also been an elementary school teacher for nearly 20 years, applying some of what he’s learned about teaching to his guiding. “I enjoy teaching, so when I’m guiding, I really pride myself on teaching my clients about the lake and the different fishing strategies we will be using. It’s important for me to make it enjoyable and a learning experience.”
It was fishing that brought the Illinois native to Minnesota. Growing up in the Joliet area, he learned to fish as a boy, at his uncle’s cabin in Wisconsin. “I kind of knew I was going to head north when I got older,” he says. He began fishing Lake Minnetonka around 1996. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he moved to an apartment in Spring Park in 1999. Now a resident of Mayer, he teaches grade-schoolers at Shirley Hills Elementary School in Mound.
“I spent a lot of time fishing when I lived in [St. Bonifacius]; when I moved to Mayer I met a buddy who had been guiding for a little longer than me. He told me I should get into guiding,” Piccioli says. During the winter, he’s an ice fishing guide, using permanent ice houses he maintains on the west side of Lake Minnetonka, near Spring Park.
He’s proud to do all of his guiding on Minnetonka. “It’s the best fishing lake around here, for any species. There are plenty of fish in the lake, and you’ve always got a chance at a trophy fish,” he says. The growth of weeds like milfoil has made the lake an even better habitat in which all species can thrive, he notes.
Rather than competing, Piccioli and other guides who work the lake help each other out by constantly exchanging information on where the fish are, and what species are biting. Piccioli says, “We work together; if one guy is having a hard time [getting fish], they can find something out from the group that will help them.”
His advice for those who would like to try a guided trip? “There are a lot of good guides out there. But you aren’t going to want a guide who is just going to take you out there, and expect you to know what to do. You’ll want a guide who is knowledgeable, has spent a lot of time on the lake and can teach you to catch fish,” he says.
Piccioli offers four- and six-hour trips. He particularly enjoys teaching novice anglers to fish, especially kids. “I get more excited when [clients] catch fish than when I do,” he says. He offers customers a guarantee: “If we don’t catch fish, the trip is on me. We have days when the bite is ‘tough,’ but even when the bite is tough, you should be able to put fish in the boat.”
Minnetonka resident Dave Haeny has used Piccioli for a handful of guided fishing outings in recent years, including one winter ice fishing session on Lake Minnetonka. He likes Piccioli’s approach. “He knows Minnetonka and a lot of other lakes really well,” says Haeny. “It’s amazing how much that guy knows. He always puts us ‘on’ fish and shows us how he is finding them. And, he’s very conversational. My son and I always banter back and forth about who has caught more fish, and he always gets in on the fun.”
Take the Bait Guide Service
Rates for two guests start at about $350, depending on the type of fish and time of year; check online for more info.