The annual Northwest Sportshow opened yesterday and I followed my tradition of taking my dad to the Minneapolis Convention Center to sample the latest fishing and hunting equipment and talk about the outdoors with people at the show. The show is taking place about a month earlier this year and runs through Sunday.
One of my most intriguing conversations was with long-time fishing guide Tom Neustrom. He has guided for more than 30 years and will be inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in June. He counts legendary anglers Al and Ron Lindner among his friends.
He happened to stop by the Sugar Point Resort booth while I was talking with the owners, Steve and Bunny Fox. This resort is on Leech Lake, which is experiencing a terrific rebound of its walleye fishery. Several years back, the population crashed and the DNR worked hard to restore it. The Foxes told me that the fishing was fabulous in 2008 and they are expecting 2009 to be another great year. Neustrom agreed.
The interesting thing is, he guides on both Leech and Upper Red, which experienced a walleye revival of its own, culminating in the reopening of walleye fishing in 2006. I asked Neustrom which lake he likes better, Leech or Upper Red. To my surprise, he said Leech. Although you can catch lots of walleyes on Upper Red, he thinks the fish are healthier (i.e. fatter) on Leech.
Here’s what I like even more — the limit on Leech is four compared with three on Upper Red. Plus, the protected slot on Leech starts at 18 inches versus 17 for Upper Red. I can’t tell you how many walleyes I have caught on Upper Red between 17 and 18 inches. The more of them I catch, the more painful it becomes to keep throwing them back. On Leech, these fish can go into the livewell.
The last thing I like about Leech is it’s closer to home than Upper Red — only about four hours versus five to five and a half. It takes less time and it will save on gas.
I have never been on Leech. I only have seen the lake from the road while driving through the town of Walker. It’s very large, to be sure, but both Neustrom and the Foxes say it’s not hard to catch walleyes on Leech during May and June. In fact, the west side of Sugar Point is an excellent place to start, they said. You can just drift with a jig and minnow and catch plenty of fish.
For those who want to know more about Leech Lake and walleye fishing, Neustrom will spend time at the Rapala, Northland Tackle and Minn Kota booths. I found him to be both easy to talk to and informative. There’s even the possibility of fishing with him this summer on Leech. If I can, I will take advantage of that opportunity. I cooked my last batch of walleye a week ago and am hoping to put more in the freezer this summer.