“Nothing venture, nothing gained.”
This is what I told my oldest son, Joe, as we fished the waters of Lake Traverse, which runs about 15 miles or so on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. We were hoping to cash in on a hot walleye bite that has been running strong for the last few weeks.
I got a great tip for a local fishing guide, Steve Carney, who has fished this lake many times over the years. He says it is typically good in the spring and fall. In fact, he said it’s usually “on fire” in May.
I was envisioning an outing like I’ve had on Upper Red, where dozens of walleyes come over the gunwale, and many more fish are thrown back then kept. What I liked, in particular, is that the protected slot for walleyes on Traverse doesn’t start until 20 inches. And, you’re allowed one fish over 20. So, you would be able to keep at least one walleye per person of any size.
That was enough to lure me and my son three-and-a-half hours west. I left with high hopes, confident we would be bringing home eight walleyes.
Unfortunately, the fish had other ideas. We ended the day with three 13-inch walleyes in the livewell. Typically, we throw those back. But, it took us several hours to land the first one, so I kept that one and the other two. We pulled back to the boat landing scratching our heads.
I feared we might learn that other anglers were successful using different tactics, but that was not the case. In fact, Carney had told me that a number of people catch lots of walleyes fishing from their docks. We worked areas where there were docks and people fishing from them. We saw very few fish caught, and even asked a few how they were doing.
The reports were all the same — very few walleyes, and all of them small. Of course, we heard the classic line: “Shoulda been here yesterday.”
I emailed my report to another friend who has fished the lake. And, he said this lake can be very tough at times. Thus, he was not surprised that we had a tough day.
Still, we had fun, especially with the half dozen silver bass that we caught. They put up a pretty good fight, and I wouldn’t mind targeting them sometime. That is, after we have caught our limit of walleyes.
On the positive side
One bright spot was meeting Todd Johnson, owner of Wing N Fin Resort located on the south part of the lake on the Minnesota side. He was very accommodating and did his best to help us find good spots to fish. His information was solid, the fish just didn’t cooperate.
He said the fishing can be good all summer, and generally picks up in the fall. I think it would be fun to come back in October and try for some walleyes. What I like about the fall is that there generally are fewer boats on the lakes. In fact, sometimes you can have the entire lake to yourself.
Time to hire a guide?
Given the long drive and higher gas prices, it makes more sense to go for a few days to make the trip worthwhile. And, it might also be a good idea to hire a guide like Steve Carney. He has a keen attention to detail and he has fished lakes like this so many times, he knows just where to go and what to do. What I especially like about him is that he is very willing to share his tips and techniques. I can read them just about every week in Outdoor News, where he writes a weekly column.
I have had the pleasure of fishing with Steve on a few occasions, way back in the 1980s when I wrote a fishing column for Sun-Current newspapers in the south and western suburbs. Most of the time, we did very well. In fact, on one trip to Mille Lacs, I caught two 27-inch walleyes in one morning. But, Steve topped me with a 29-incher. That was a day on the water I’ll never forget!
I hope to have more days like this. Maybe, it will happen someday on Traverse. My next chance to catch a walleye comes later this month, when I’ll take my son, Andy, and his friend to Lake of the Woods for a fishing retreat led by a priest from the Diocese of St. Cloud. I hope to write about that for an upcoming outdoors column.