The much-anticipated fishing trip up north took place last week. I took my two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, to Upper Red Lake along with their Grandpa Bob Guditis.
We arrived at Upper Red Tuesday afternoon and checked in at our cabin at Bear Paw Guides resort. The protected slot limit had changed that day from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches. The same thing happened last year, and our family cashed in big. We took home a limit of walleyes, with every one of them measuring between 17 and 20 inches.
We were hoping for similar results this year, but the early spring ruined our plans. Rather than lots of fish being on the shallow breakline, the fish had moved out to deeper water and were scattered. We tried the traditional spots, and caught only four 12-inch walleyes.
So, I decided it was time for a switch. I had heard the fishing was excellent on Lake of the Woods, so we went there Wednesday morning. We drove an hour to get to Wheeler’s Point and the public access, and were on our fishing spot at about 10:30 a.m. The early spring meant the walleyes were out deep in 31-32 feet of water. We went through the Pine Island Gap and drove about another 3 miles until we saw a flotilla of boats anchored at the magic depth.
We picked a spot between two groups of boats and dropped anchor. It didn’t take long to get action. Joe landed a nice walleye just 10 minutes later. Only a few minutes after that, Bob set the hook on a solid fish. It was clear to him and us that this was a big fish. He fought it for several minutes, then finally got it to the surface. I swooped it into the landing net, and it measured 26 inches. It was very fat, and I was sure it weighed more than 6 pounds.
It was Bob’s biggest walleye ever and it ended up being the largest of the trip. We ended up bringing in 15 walleyes — one short of our four-fish limit of 16 — and six bonus sauger. We also caught several fish in the protected slot of 19 1/2-28 inches. The day ended with Joe and Andy catching 23-inch walleyes back to back. In fact, Andy set the hook on his fish just after Joe landed his.
We could have stayed longer to catch the final fish, but decided to head in at 7:30 p.m. One of the owners of Adrian’s Resort, Darlene Ney, was only available to clean our fish until 8 p.m., so we didn’t want to push it. She only charges $1 a fish, and it’s money well spent. Plus, she packages them for us, which makes it easier to take them home.
Actually, we could have had our limit, but Joe released a 14 1/2-inch fish at about 6:45, thinking we would catch a bigger one. In fact, we did catch bigger ones, but they were all too big to keep. Joe got one that was just over 19 1/2 inches, which was tough to throw back.
Bob had a hard time with the protected slot, especially when it meant he had to throw back his big walleye. I tried to explain the reasoning behind it, but he just didn’t buy it. There is no such slot limit in Montana, where he lives. The limit on Canyon Ferry Lake, a walleye lake near his home in Great Falls, is 20 per day and 40 in possession, with one fish over 28 inches allowed. When he looks at the size of Lake of the Woods, he doesn’t understand why a protected slot is needed.
I’m not sure I know, either. I fished the lake about six years ago, when the limit was six fish with one over 20 inches allowed. My friend, Pete, and I caught plenty of fish and came home with our limit. The fishery seemed healthy and not in need of any more restrictions in harvest. The big thing was when commercial netting ended on the lake about 30 years ago. Almost immediately, the number and size of walleyes skyrocketed. The fishing has been consistently good ever since, year in and year out.
Although the lake seems to get lots of fishing pressure, it continues to produce lots of walleyes, both keepers and fish in the protected slot. It rarely disappoints, provided the winds are light enough to get out on the lake. I plan on going back in the fall, when the walleyes migrate into the Rainy River. It sure would be nice to get back up before then. In the meantime, I have some walleye in the freezer to enjoy!