Tag Archives: walleye

2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

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As I look ahead to outdoor adventures in 2014, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on 2013 and recall the blessings of the year. There were many highlights, and I offer this list of the best ones:

Snow bird

It might seem tough to name turkey hunting in the snow – in May! – as a highlight, but May 5 will go down as both a unique and awesome day in the turkey woods. Just days earlier, the area I hunt in Wisconsin was blanketed by 15 inches of snow. It was very strange driving out to my hunting spot and seeing snow everywhere. It looked more like December than May.

I must admit, I had to fight off feelings of despair during my hour-long drive to Ellsworth the morning of my hunt. Would the turkeys be radically affected by the snow? Would they still be interested in breeding? Would they gobble?

Turns out, the birds were quite active indeed. In fact, I had a nice 2-year-old tom on the ground in less than an hour. He gobbled very eagerly on the roost, and I coaxed him in with some aggressive hen calling followed by some soft calling at the end. The bird was standing in the snow when I shot him, and I was sitting in the snow against a tree. It was the first time in almost 30 years of turkey hunting that I had hunted in snow that actually was accumulated on the ground.

It was a very unusual hunt, and a very cool experience overall. But, I NEVER want to hunt in snow again in May. Let’s hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I did continue to hunt after that because I had bonus tags that the state offers. The hunting was extremely difficult and the toms had lots of hens around. I believe this was caused by the fact that the snow destroyed eggs the hens had laid, so they went out to breed again. Thus, I had very little success calling another bird in. I had some jakes (young toms) come in fairly close, but they ended up not being in gun range. I fired, thinking they were, but they were too far and merely ran off at the shot.

The good news is I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned the properties well. So, i should be in fine shape this year. I look for it to be a good spring season. Two years ago, the early and warm spring caused a very good hatch, and there were lots of jakes running around during the 2013 season. That means lots of mature 2-year-olds this year. I can’t wait!

Buck for the fireplace

Just weeks after finishing my turkey hunting season, I got a call from Lee’s Taxidermy in Prescott, Wis. to let me know that my whitetail buck mount was done. It was the largest buck I had ever taken and I’m not sure if I will ever top it, or even match it. I took Joe, my oldest son, to the taxidermy shop to pick it up. Then, when I got home, I put it up on the fireplace.

Joe has a nice buck mount, too, and we discussed whose was better. Lee Schommer, the taxidermist, said his scored 151, and mine about 153. He did not take exact measurements of mine, but says whenever he tries to estimate the score of a buck, he’s usually within 2 inches of the exact score. So, bottom line is that our bucks are very even. The rack on Joe’s is thicker, but my rack is wider and has taller tines. Honestly, Joe and I are not competitive when it comes to trying to get the biggest rack. It was just fun to compare our buck mounts.

Claire’s first walleye

My 11-year-old daughter Claire caught her first walleye in June on Upper Red Lake. Due to a very busy schedule, we were able to run up to Upper Red for an evening of fishing. We contacted Bear Paw Guides and hired Tyler Brasel to guide Claire, my wife Julie and I for the evening. Just days earlier, the protected slot loosened to allow the taking of fish up to 20 inches, versus 17 prior to that. So, we were very optimistic about being able to catch fish to take home.

The trip did not disappoint. We had our four-fish limit for the three of us (12 fish total) in an hour, and Claire caught lots of fish, starting with her first-ever walleye. Tyler set her up with a bobber rig and it worked beautifully for Claire. Tyler has young kids of his own, so he is very good at helping children catch fish. He did an awesome job with Claire, and it’s a trip we will never forget. Hopefully, we can get back up there again this summer.

‘Tonka bass

I went out to Lake Minnetonka on the Fourth of July with my son Joe to try for some largemouth bass. He was home for the summer and wanted to do some fishing. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I hadn’t been on the lake in years. However, I did very well on the lake when I did fish it regularly, and wanted to hit my old spots to see if they produced.

Turns out, one spot in particular was as good as it used to be. We caught several nice bass on it, including a feisty 18-incher, and I went home very satisfied. Joe got some action, too, although he was a bit rusty at fishing with plastic worms. Near the end, he started to get the hang of it, and pulling a bass over the gunwale put a smile on his face. I would definitely like to do some bass fishing in 2014!

Breakthrough with a bow

Of course, my top highlight of the year has to be getting my first deer with a bow. Everything came together on the morning of Nov. 6. A young buck with a small eight-point rack came walking by my stand at just 10 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. I drew back as he stepped past me and I quickly found his vital area with my 20-yard pin. All of my practice and preparation paid off with a perfect pass-through shot. Tracking was easy in the snow and I found my buck about 100 yards from where I took the shot. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of finding my deer after the shot. I had hit about a half dozen deer previously, but didn’t find a single one, including a small doe that I hit in late September. Ask any bow hunter, and they’ll tell you that failure to find a deer that’s hit is a very sick feeling. Hopefully, I’ll be able to duplicate my success next year.

Sons come through

It was also a good deer hunting year for my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe got a small whitetail doe on the last day of our hunt in Montana over Thanksgiving week, and Andy ended up taking a doe in Montana plus a doe in Minnesota. So, our freezer is full, plus we were able to give venison away. Our family has been feasting on venison in the last few weeks, and I’m sure our supply of meat will last into the spring and summer. There’s nothing like venison steaks on the grill!

One intriguing possibility for 2014 would be taking Claire turkey hunting. She has expressed interest, and I have said I will take her if she wants to go. She turns 12 in April, and that would be very fun to chase gobblers with her. She’s not sure if she actually could pull the trigger on an animal. But if we go out and call a bird in, and she decides not to shoot, that’s fine with me. I like going out into the woods, especially in the spring, so she won’t disappoint me if she decides to hold off on the shot. We’ll see what she says as we get closer to the turkey season.

The next thing I’ll do is contact landowners after the Wisconsin turkey lottery. I have been blessed to have several landowners who continue to let me hunt, and I can’t wait to get after those birds in 2014!

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Walleye heaven!

June 24, 2013

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Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

I had the narrowest of windows to try and pop a few walleyes for the frying pan last week – about three hours, to be exact.

Where can an angler go to have any hope for success in such a tiny time frame?

Upper Red Lake, that’s where! Just two weeks ago, it looked like I might be able to get away for two or three days at the end of last week. I was primed to hit this phenomenal walleye fishery to cash in on a walleye bonanza fueled by the shrinking of the lake’s protected slot – from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches on June 15.

I was dreaming of two days of fast fishing, with a fish fry at the cabin and a limit of walleyes to bring home. Alas, the calendar got full, and I was left with just one evening to get out on the water.

I cajoled my wife Julie and daughter Claire into joining me, and we left the house at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20. We arrived in Waskish on the lake’s eastern shore at 5:30 p.m. and eagerly pulled in to Bear Paw Guides, where our guide for the evening, Tyler Brasel, awaited.

It had rained during the drive up north, but the skies brightened near Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the weather looked troublesome on the western horizon, where Tyler’s dad Steve said a storm was positioned.

Would it come straight across the lake and end our outing? Or, would it steer southward and pass us by?

I said a short prayer, with the intensity only a fisherman yearning to get on the water can muster. With that, we hurried to the boat landing, located on the outlet of the Tamarac River.

A bobber and hope

We only had to go a short distance from the mouth of the river to one of Tyler’s favorite spots. It’s a small rock pile the size of a living room located on the eastern shore. He’s got it plugged in to his GPS, which was the size of a small TV. He actually has two GPS units, which enabled us to park almost right on top of the rock pile.

Tyler handed Julie and I rods with jigs tied on. We promptly attached frozen minnows to the jigs and heaved them overboard. Julie caught the first walleye of the evening – and the second, and the third. This all happened in a manner of minutes, while Tyler was getting Claire set up with a slip bobber rig.

Throughout the drive up north, Claire had said she wasn’t sure she wanted to fish. I hoped she would at least try it. When Tyler suggested the bobber setup, Claire quickly agreed.

Good thing, too. The walleyes jumped all over her jig-and-leech presentation. In fact, she ended up catching the most fish in our group. Even Tyler marveled at her success.

As for me, I caught my fair share, and contributed to the limit of 12 walleyes we brought back to the docks. Turns out, we needed far less than the three hours of daylight to pull in our legal limit. And, we caught several bonus perch, and Julie even landed a northern pike that we were able to keep.

Attitude change

In terms of Claire’s attitude about fishing, she had this to say shortly after landing yet another walleye:

“This is a game changer for me. I like fishing now.”

Why shouldn’t she? With fishing like this, just about anyone would fall in love with it. Fortunately, the storm held off and didn’t bother us during our time on the water. The wind did pick up during about the last half hour, so we decided to head in. Tyler and Steve cleaned our fish back at the resort, and we took home a nice bag of walleye fillets.

Tyler said he is able to catch walleyes all summer long, though he has to go farther out from shore and cover more water. He said he never fails to catch fish when he tries his hardest. Sometimes, he does some experimenting and will come up empty.

The good news is, there is lots of summer left and Tyler has plenty of openings on his calendar, especially during weekdays. And, there are lots of walleyes left in the lake. We caught plenty of various lengths, from about 8-10 inches all the way up to one just more than 20 inches. The fishery looks to be in fine shape.

Perhaps, the best news of that wonderful night is that Claire definitely wants to go fishing again. In fact, she was disappointed to leave the next morning.

Who knows? Maybe there’s hope I can get her into a deer stand.

 

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A beautiful afternoon on Lake Mille Lacs

August 27, 2012

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I got to spend an afternoon on Lake Mille Lacs last week. Actually, it was for an assignment for The Catholic Spirit (my outdoors column). One of the highlights was a nice sunset. I was not able to take advantage of the amazing walleye bite of May and June, but talked to someone who did.

Father Troy Przybilla got out on the water a number of times earlier this summer and confirmed that the action was blazing hot. On the flip side, keeper fish were very hard to come by. In about 10 or 12 trips, he managed to catch just two keepers outside of the 17- to 28-inch protected slot. He caught a bunch that were just beyond the 17-inch mark.

I had felt frustrated about not being able to join the ranks of anglers who capitalized on the sizzling bite, but far less so after hearing about the lack of keepers. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy catching walleyes, but I like having at least a few for the frying pan.

There was a similar problem on Upper Red Lake back when it reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, but it wasn’t nearly this bad. If you fished long enough, you eventually caught your two fish under 17 inches. There were lots of fish in all size ranges, so you just had to keep at it until you found the keepers.

Now, it appears as though there aren’t many keepers in Mille Lacs. So, if it’s a shore lunch you want, Lake Lacs may not be the place to go.

Father Przybilla thinks it’s time for the DNR to modify the harvest rules for walleyes. He suggested a total inch count for walleyes, with anglers able to keep fish of any size, as long as the total inch count doesn’t exceed a certain number.

I like his idea, in terms of balancing the size of fish taken. When you have both sport anglers and Indian tribes targeting small fish, it stands to reason that, at some point, the number of those fish will go down.

In this case, it appears as if it’s going way down. I like the rule they had on Lake of the Woods about eight or nine years ago. You could keep six walleyes, with only one over 20 inches. My friend, Pete Wolney, and I went up in the fall the last year of that rule, and had an absolute walleye bonanza. We each took one fish home between 20 and 21 inches, plus several that were in the 19 1/2-inch range.

Now, you can keep four walleyes, and none between 19 1/2 and 28 inches. That still leaves plenty of fish to keep, and Pete and I have no trouble catching our limit of keepers, as long as the weather doesn’t mess things up.

Lake of the Woods is in good shape, but Mille Lacs has an imbalanced walleye population. I hope the DNR can figure out a way to correct the problem.

I think it’s time to let anglers start keeping at least a few of the bigger fish. Some of those fish are dying after being caught. Why not let anglers keep some of them, rather than feed them to the seagulls?

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Highlights at Northwest Sportshow

April 2, 2012

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The Big Green Egg on display at the Kitchen Window booth at the Northwest Sportshow.

Got a chance to check out the Northwest Sportshow Friday afternoon. It was about the only time I could make it, and I’m glad I did.

Though I only was able to spend about two hours, it was well worth the trip. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Re-connecting with old friends. Early on in my rounds, I bumped into pro bass fisherman Gary Lake. Years ago, while at Sun Newspapers in the western suburbs, I met Gary and wrote about him in my fishing column. I had the pleasure of fishing with him a few times, and I was able to learn some things from him. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, so it was good to run into him. We both agreed to get out on the water this summer. That will be fun!

I also saw Steve Carney, a fishing guide who also is from my days at the Sun. I have kept in touch with him, and I read his weekly columns in Outdoor News. He’s a straight shooter who tells it like it is. If he does well on the water or in the woods, he says so. If he doesn’t, he says that, too. I have always liked that about him, and respect him a great deal for it. He said he had his best ice fishing season ever this winter, which followed his worst bow hunting season ever in Wisconsin. I told him I might be able to help him with that. I suggested we talk more about it on the water sometime. I sure hope he takes me up on that!

2. Discovering the Big Green Egg. Recently, I had heard about a form of barbecue grill called the Big Green Egg. It has been around for while, but I only have heard of it recently. It’s a charcoal grill, but quite a step up from my Weber. For one thing, you can seal it tight so that the moisture stays inside. That means meat won’t dry out so fast. Second, it has a thermometer mounted in the lid so you always know what the temperature is. And, it’s easily regulated by adjusting the air vent on top. Finally, it uses real charcoal, which gives the meat better flavor.

I learned all of this from a booth run by a store that sells Green Eggs: Kitchen Window in Minneapolis at Calhoun Square. Not only does this store sell the Green Egg, but it also teaches people how to use it. The down side is that these are very spendy grills. There are four sizes, from small all the way to extra large. The large costs $800, which is mighty steep for a grill. I’m not really in a financial position to buy one now, but owning one is now a dream.

Getting a few fishing tips. I’m always on the lookout for tips that will help me put more fish in the boat. I talked with a guy from Pure Fishing and we got on the subject of swimbaits. I first heard about these from In-Fisherman Magazine a few years back. Basically, they are a soft plastic crank bait that you put onto a large jig head and reel in at a steady pace rather than lift and drop it from the bottom. According to editor Doug Stange, all species love these baits, especially walleyes. I have dabbled with them a few times and caught some fish, but always wanted to use them more.

Mike Baumgartner, a Pure Fishing rep, gave me a few tips on how to use them. Like Stange, he said swimbaits can be dynamite at times. He uses them throughout the summer and into the fall. He says once you are set up correctly, they are easy to fish. In fact, he often takes novices out fishing with them, and they catch as many fish as he does.

The key, he said, is to fish them in weeds. That is where they are most effective. And, that is where walleyes spend a surprising amount of their time. And, in many cases, these fish are untouched by other anglers, who frequent  rocks, sand and gravel. So, you’re getting unpressured fish that are in the weeds for one reason – to eat!

That short encounter made me really want to give them a try this summer. Mike has had success on Leech Lake, where there are lots of large cabbage beds. The nice thing about swimbaits is you can cover lots of water. But, there’s one important rigging tip – use a wire leader. Mike says pike love swimbaits, too, and you’ll get bit off many times and lose lots of baits unless you use a  wire leader. Amazingly, that piece of hardware does not scare off walleyes.

No turkey tips

Here’s the surprise of this year’s show – I did not get any turkey hunting tips. I always enjoyed visiting the AmmoCraft & Gobbler Specialties booth owned by Ron Becker, who has a store in Hopkins. But, he stopped coming several years ago. Fortunately, I was able to buy a call from him that is my No. 1 call for turkey hunting. It is made by Quaker Boy and is a very simple push-button call that has proven very effective for me. In fact, I called in two toms with it last spring. It’s called the Pro Push Pin Yelper and sells for about $20. For me, it has been worth every penney. It has brought in several birds to gun range, and it is very easy to use. That is very important when you have a gobbler closing in and are so nervous your hands are shaking.

That’s exactly what happened to me last spring when I called in a nice, double-bearded gobbler in Wisconsin. He responded to a yelp from my box call, then cut the distance in half minutes later and gobbled again. That’s when I pulled out my Pro Push Pin Yelper and hit him with some soft calls, clucks and purrs, which are feeding sounds. He gobbled immediately, then circled to my right and entered a field, where he gobbled again.

Knowing he was likely to keep coming and end up in shotgun range, I grabbed the call to give him one more hen vocalization. When I looked down at my hand, it was shaking. Still, I was able to work the call just fine, and gave him another brief series of clucks and purrs. He gobbled two or three times, and came right in. My shot was only 20 yards.

I shared this story with Ron, who got a kick out of it. With the Wisconsin youth season coming up this weekend, I hope that my son, William, will have a similar experience. He has yet to shoot a bird, but I’m hoping he’ll get his first one on Saturday.

Q: What’s your favorite turkey hunting story?

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Fishing trip ends quickly

November 2, 2011

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Dreams of walleyes danced in my head as my friend, Pete Wolney, and I headed north Sunday afternoon for two days of fishing on Lake of the Woods. It has been an annual fall event for about the last eight years, and we were hoping for some great action.

We try to time our trip when the shiners migrate from the lake into the Rainy River, with the walleyes following closely behind. It has proven tough to hit it right, which is why we scrutinize fishing reports throughout the month of October. Finally, we decided to pull the trigger and make the six-hour hike to Baudette.

The weather looked good, and we were eager to hit the river for what we hoped would be fast fishing. But, alas, an urgent family matter came up for Pete and we had to drive home Monday afternoon. We got to fish for just two hours before taking the boat out of the water. This was the last fishing trip of the season for both of us.

It was sad to have it end so quickly, but one bit of quick thinking helped us go home with some walleyes. Each of us caught one fish in the two hours we were out on the water. I caught a 13-inch walleye that we kept, and Pete got a 21-incher that we had to release because it was in the protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches. I decided to ask the folks at Adrian’s Resort, where we stayed, if anyone had any extra fish we could take off their hands. One of the owners did some checking, and she came up with some for us.

So, after returning home, I did a fish fry for my wife, Julie, and two of our kids, Claire and William (my two oldest are off at college). Nothing beats fresh walleye in a frying pan. That definitely eased the pain of not being able to do much fishing.

Now, it’s on to deer hunting. I’ll be in my bow hunting stand tomorrow, then back in the woods Saturday for the firearms opener. Our hunting party goes to several properties near Red Wing, and the good news is all of the crops are harvested. That pushes deer into the woods — and brings them back out into the fields for spilled grain when it’s time to eat. We have stands positioned on the edge of the woods and we’ll be waiting for them.

So, things are looking good for the opener.

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Walleye jigs from an unexpected source

October 28, 2011

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When I stopped in to see Michael and Anne Gross this morning, I did not expect to walk away with a bag full of jigs. That was a surprise ending to our brief visit.

I was there to drop off copies of The Catholic Spirit containing a front-page article about their daughter, Teresa, who took her own life almost a year ago, on Nov. 1, 2010. I also interviewed them on the air this morning on Relevant Radio.

When I handed them a dozen copies of the newspaper article with their story, we talked more about their journey through tragedy into healing and, ultimately, to helping others through an event they are organizing at their parish, St. Paul in Ham Lake. It takes place Saturday, Nov. 19 from 8 a.m. to noon (call 763-757-6910 for details or to register).

As we neared the end of our conversation, I happened to mention that I am going on a fishing trip (yes, fishing trip!) to Lake of the Woods on Sunday. When I told Michael, an avid fisherman himself, that we would be jigging for walleyes, he said that he makes his own and I was welcome to take some with me.

I couldn’t refuse the offer. For me, that would be special to catch a walleye (or six!) on one of his jigs. I felt as though the time I have spent talking with him over the last few weeks has created a bond. Not only have both of us lost someone (my first wife died of cancer in 1995), but we also share a love of the outdoors.

We talked about scheduling a fishing trip next summer. I’d love to see that happen. For now, I’ll head up north, tie on one of his jigs and see what happens. The fishing reports are good. According to one on the Sportsman’s Lodge website, the walleyes are running strong from the lake into the Rainy River and biting well.

That’s good news for me and my friend, Pete Wolney. We try to hit the river run of walleyes every fall. Looks like it’s here. I’ll do some bow hunting later today and again on Sunday morning, then it’s up to Lake of the Woods we go!

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The bass weren’t biting

August 22, 2011

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On Friday, I went on my annual fishing outing with my good friend, Dave Altman. We’ve had some great bass fishing trips over the years, and I was hoping this would be another. I like going out fishing with Dave because not only is he lots of fun to fish with, he’s also a very skilled angler.

I planned on putting his skils — and mine — to work on Lake Calhoun. By the time August rolls around, the bass are in their predictable summer pattern, which means they are schooled up on the weedlines.

It’s a pattern I have been able to count on year after year, except in cool summers like 2009, when temperatures never got very warm and the fish stayed shallow all summer. Fortunately, this year’s heat in July should have been enough to push the bass down deep.

Nice start

We tried our first spot on the south end of the lake, and Dave caught a nice 16-inch bass within the first 10-15 minutes. Just after he landed his, I hooked one and battled it for a few seconds before it spit the hook. I figured more fish would come after that.

Dave and I kept casting our jigs and plastic worms to the weedlines, hoping to get into a school of bass. We threw a marker buoy out near this spot, in the hope that there would be a bunch of fish to catch.

Action slows

To our surprise, that was the best — and only — flurry of the day. We plied the waters on the south end, hitting spots that have, in years past, yielded fish in the 19- and 20-inch range. The best I could muster was a 16-incher that matched Dave’s first fish. I caught a smaller one and lost a few others, and Dave never landed another bass.

I think there were three contributing factors to the tough fishing:

1. A cold front came through right as we were fishing. The wind shifted from the southwest to the northwest, and the cloud cover lifted, leaving a clear blue sky. Cold fronts are notorious for shutting down the fishing, and this outing was proof.

2. The weed growth was way down. I’m not sure why, but the growth of eurasian watermilfoil was extremely stunted on all of the Minneapolis city lakes this year. Even though it got very hot in July, and the usual milfoil harvest did not take place because of the government shutdown, the weedgrowth was very thin. In fact, I did not see any that had reached the surface, which is a trademark of this weed. That has been the case the last three years, which makes me think it is dying out on the lake. The sailing enthusiasts are happy about this, no doubt, but not me. The more weeds, the better the fishing has been for me.

3. The water clarity has diminished. Normally, I can see eight to 10 feet down in the clear waters of Lake Calhoun. Not this year. When we pulled out of the boat landing, you couldn’t see two feet down. At least for now, this is a stained lake. I’m sure that changes the pattern, too. And, unfortunately, I was not able to figure out what the pattern is.

Overall, the fishing has been tough for me this summer. I have had to work hard on every trip to catch fewer fish. I’ve got one fishing trip left this year, my annual trek to Lake of the Woods in the fall with my friend, Pete Wolney. Hopefully, I’ll finally hit the bonanza I’ve been waiting for.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to shoot my bow and get ready for the fall archery hunting season.

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Working hard for walleyes

July 5, 2011

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Dave with walleye

I spent five days fishing on Lake of the Woods as part of a fishing retreat organized and run by a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud. It is the subject of my outdoors column, which will appear in this week’s edition of The Catholic Spirit.

As the photo in this post will attest, I was successful in my search for walleyes. But, I had to work much harder to find and catch fish than I’m used to on this lake. Part of it certainly was due to the weather. We had winds from the east for three of the days we were there, proving once again the time-worn slogan: Wind from the east, fish bite the least.

Wouldn’t you know it, the weather got nice the last afternoon we were there, and our departure the last morning featured clear blue skies and bright sunshine. That was good news for a priest, Father Greg Mastey, who came in right after us with his group of fishermen. I emailed him after he got back and he said the fishing was excellent for the three days he was there.

As I have often said, timing is everything. Father Mastey hit it right, we didn’t, at least in terms of the fishing. But, that’s OK. The virtue of patience was tested on the trip, though I struggled to be patient at times.

I sure hope I can hit it right sometime this summer. The weather often stabilizes in July, so I’m optimistic for good outings ahead!

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Walleye tip

June 13, 2011

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For those looking for good walleye fishing, I have a suggestion: Go to Upper Red Lake on Wednesday or later.

Starting on that day, the normal protected slot of 17-26 inches for walleyes shrinks to 20-26 inches. So, those fish between 17 and 20 inches, for the first time this year, will be fair game.

Folks, there are a lot of fish that size in this lake. If the weather holds up, it should be a bonanza. Since the opener, the walleyes have been shallow and biting aggressively when the weather is decent. But, strong winds can make the lake unfishable, especially when they’re out of the west, northwest or north.

Looking at the weather forecast for the area, things are looking pretty good for this week. Looks like there could be some rain on Wednesday, but nice after that. If the winds are light, anglers should have a walleye feast.

The nice thing is, we have had a cold spring so far, which means the walleyes will stay shallow. There is a break along the shoreline that goes from 4 feet to about 10 feet, and as long as the water stays cool enough, the walleyes will hang out on this break.

I have anchored on the break and fished many times, and it’s generally pretty easy to catch walleyes on a jig and a minnow. Some folks troll Rapalas and catch fish, too. In fact, both methods work well.

I looked at a recent fishing report on a website called iDoFishing.com and the fishing has been good on Upper Red, as I suspected it would be. What’s nice about Upper Red is that it’s an easy lake to fish — find the break, anchor and throw out a jig and a minnow. You will catch walleyes, and also freshwater drum (commonly known as sheepshead). With the expanded slot, it will be possible to catch a four-fish limit of walleyes, all between 19 and 20 inches. That’s tough to beat on any lake!

If you’ve got a little more time, I would suggest adding a day or two on Lake of the Woods to your agenda. The fishing is also excellent on this lake, and it has a year-round protected slot of 19 1/2-28 inches. Not only that, but once you reach your four-fish limit on walleyes, you can add two more sauger (you can keep up to six walleyes and sauger in combination, with up to four of them being walleyes).

What some people don’t know is that, if you fish both lakes on the same trip, you can keep a total of six walleyes (the statewide limit), as long as no more than four come from either one of these two lakes. So, if you would like to take home the most walleyes that you can, this would be a nice way to go. I’ve never been able to a catch a combined six walleyes on the two lakes, but have tried a few times.

A good place for a fishing report on Lake of the Woods is a website called Walleye Hunter. It actually has fishing reports from several sources, including resorts on the lake, which are updated regularly. Plus, on several of them, you can read the history of fishing reports going all the way back to the opener and, in some cases, the ice-fishing season. Basically, unless the winds are really strong, the fishing is good on this lake. There were some high winds last week, but things look quieter for this week.

If you can take some vacation days this week, now’s a good time to head up north!

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Trying a new lake

May 31, 2011

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“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.

Unexpected results

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.

Stay tuned!

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