Every once in a while, a fishing or hunting trip goes as well as I had hoped it would. This week was one of those times.
June 19, 2009
I took my wife, Julie, and our four kids to Upper Red Lake on Tuesday for three days of walleye fishing. The day before we got there, the protected slot had changed, going from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches. Three inches may not sound like much of a difference, but it is huge. Anyone who has fished the lake will tell you that there are lots and lots of fish in the 17-20-inch range. And, it can be agonizing to have to release dozens of them in the search for keepers under 17 inches.
We were blessed with the ability to keep four fish each up to 20 inches. For our family of six, that’s 24 walleyes! Based on the reports I was getting before we left, bringing home our limit of 24 was a realistic goal.
I’m thrilled to say that is exactly what happened. The fish bit well enough for us to catch a limit to bring home, plus enough for a fish fry while we were there. We reached our limit of 24 by the end of the second day, then had a fish fry that evening in our cabin owned by Bear Paw Guides. Particularly satisfying for me was taking my wife, Julie, out earlier that evening along with my son, Joe.
How’s this for perfect timing — Julie bought her fishing license at 6 p.m. and was catching walleyes within an hour. Then, Julie, Joe and I came in with our three-person limit of 12 by 9 p.m.
One very nice amenity on Upper Red is the fish-cleaning service offered at West Wind Resort by a staff member named Paul. He does a fabulous job and only charges $1 per fish. In my book, it’s money well spent. Not only that, he gave us some great advice on where to fish. We followed it and it paid off handsomely.
Basically, he recommended traveling farther away from the public landing at the mouth of the Tamarac River to get away from the crowds. Many people fish within a quarter mile from the mouth of the river. In fact, that area has gotten fished heavily ever since the slot limit changed on Monday. There are estimates of more than 100 boats covering that shoreline on Monday. Among several who offered that number were a DNR game warden and Steve Brasel, owner of Bear Paw Guides.
Looks like a lot of people were paying close attention to the change in the slot. I suspect the lake will continue to get pounded until the fishing slows. The fish are shallow and close to shore now because the water is cooler than normal, but they eventually will move deeper and farther out. They may even move out of the eastern portion of the lake that non-Indians are allowed to fish.
Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that. I have lots of walleye in the freezer that should last for months. I carefully take care of the fillets, vacuum sealing them so they will last much longer in the freezer. I spent quite a while working on that last night and today, but it was well worth the effort.
What really made me smile was seeing such hefty fillets that I’m not used to handling from fish caught on Upper Red. I would say most of the fish we ended up keeping were between 17 and 20 inches. A few went 19 inches or more.
Some people are leery of keeping fish close to the upper limit of keeping size, but I take great care to use the proper measuring tool and the proper technique, so I am very sure of the correct measurment of the fish I catch. When a fish is longer than 19 inches, I am even more careful. In fact, I ended up having to release a beautiful 21-incher that I caught on a crankbait.
At the time, I was a little bummed out, but, in the end, things worked out very well. The third morning of our trip, in particular, was excellent in terms of the size of fish we caught. We needed six fish to replace the ones we had eaten the night before, so I had to take someone with me to get them. My son, Andy, was the only one willing to get up early, so he and I went out at 8 a.m.
Within an hour, we had our six fish and ended up staying a little longer to fish for fun. All six fish were longer than the previous slot of 17 inches and two of them stretched to 19 inches or more. Andy and I were all smiles when we pulled up anchor and headed back in around 9:45.
I thank the state DNR for relaxing the slot and, most importantly, I thank God for providing us with the opportunity to go on this trip and for blessing us with an abundance of walleye!