I know it sounds strange, with the deer firearms hunting opener just around the corner, but I went walleye fishing earlier this week on Lake of the Woods.
Actually, it has become an annual fall ritual for my friend, Pete Wolney, and I since we went for the first time seven years ago. We really nailed the walleyes that year and have been “hooked” ever since (pardon the pun).
We wait until mid to late October, and even early November, to try and catch the annual run of shiners from the main lake into the Rainy River. These little minnows are a major food source for walleyes, which follow them wherever they go.
Last week’s cold spell pushed the water temperature down into the low 40s, which usually triggers massive runs of shiners into the river, with the walleyes following closely behind.
However, there wasn’t the big shiner run we have seen in other years. Some went through on Friday, but not many since. The good news is, walleyes have been showing up in the river in decent numbers. We were hoping they would be present and hungry Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
We found willing takers of our jig-and-minnow offerings, but the fish didn’t seem to be as aggressive as usual. Many times, we would feel a bite, pause to let the fish take it, then set the hook and come up empty. It was very aggravating. Fortunately, there were enough fish that engulfed our jigs to help us come away with fish to eat and take home.
We started off on Monday afternoon, heading out from Adrian’s Resort about 2 p.m. People were still catching walleyes out on the lake, so we decided to try there first. Winds were light and temperatures were mild, and we figured we had nothing to lose.
We caught two 15-inch walleyes, plus a few sauger (close cousin to the walleye that runs smaller). Then, we headed to the river and caught a few more fish before dark — seven in all. We haven’t kept detailed records of our trips, but we think it may have been our best first day ever. There was plenty to eat at our fish fry that night, plus some left over for the next day, in case we struggled to catch fish.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen, except right away at dawn, when Pete caught several nice walleyes, while I didn’t even get a bite. After a while, I grew quite frustrated, and asked if we could switch locations. We headed out to the lake again, though there was more wind to contend with than the previous day.
Still, the walleyes and sauger were cooperative. In fact, the bite was better than the previous day. We caught more fish, plus one or two in the protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches. After that, we went back to the river and anchored in about 16 feet, where we got a few more and went in with a limit.
On the last morning, we went back to this spot and anchored again. After about 20 or 30 minutes, I landed a nice 18-incher. We needed only one more walleye and one sauger to replace what we had eaten the day before and come away with a limit of four walleyes apiece and two sauger.
Unfortunately, this great reward was immediately followed by a bizarre mishap. After unhooking, measuring and dropping the fish into Pete’s livewell, I discovered that my fishing rod was missing. Apparently, it had fallen into the river somehow.
That was about a $50 mistake. After venting for a few minutes, I pulled out another spinning outfit, and we kept fishing. Pete caught a nice 20-incher, then we discovered that the wind had pushed us in shallow. We decided to pull anchor and head to the other side of the river and fish a little rock pile that had produced in previous years.
It has never been our best spot, but we’ve always been able to pull a fish or two from it. Because we only needed one more walleye and one more sauger, we figured this was the place to do it.
Boy, were we ever right in our spot selection. Within minutes, I landed a small sauger. Then, I caught a bigger one just minutes later. Just a few minutes after that, I caught a 15-inch walleye.
But, we were far from finished. I caught an 18-incher, then a 19-incher, then another 15-incher, and another sauger. Finally, I capped it off with a 20-incher. Along the way, I lost a big fish and Pete caught a beautiful 17 1/2-incher that we released. On the previous two days, that fish would have been one of our nicest keepers of the day.
Not this time. It all happened in about an hour, making it the best flurry of the trip. Interestingly, that seems to be the way it goes most every year — tough the first day, better the second, and best the third. Maybe it has to do with making some improvements in our technique as each day progresses.
We’re not sure. All we know is the fish always seem more cooperative on the third day. The truth is, had we started the day with zero fish, we still would have come off the water with a limit.
What a great way to end the trip. We were a little sad to leave this walleye factory, but we drove home very, very satisfied with the fish we had caught.
I plan on taking this walleye out to Montana later this month when we make our annual trip over Thanksgiving to see Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sharon Guditis. We’re hoping the deer and elk will show themselves when we take our rifles into the woods.
This year, my 12-year-old son, William, will be going on his first Montana hunt. Also joining us will be my oldest son, Joe, who currently is going to school at the University of Dallas. Bob and Sharon bought him a plane ticket so he can join us Thursday through Sunday. It will be great to see him. Plus, my other son, Andy, will have a youth deer and elk combination license. He really is hoping to see and shoot at an elk this year. I’m praying for that already.
But first, we have the Minnesota deer opener tomorrow. Andy and I are going, along with my brother, Paul, plus my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his two sons, Dan and Chris. It will be Chris’ first deer hunt. He’s excited and so are we.
Bring on the whitetails!