Waiting for walleyes

October 31, 2008

Faith Outdoors

I just returned from my annual October fishing trip on Lake of the Woods with my friend, Pete Wolney. It was our fifth straight year trying to take advantage of the annual migration of walleyes from the lake into the Rainy River.

We have done well the previous four years, always taking home our limit of walleyes. We were optimistic as we prepared to leave Sunday afternoon to fish all day Monday and Tuesday and then wrap up fishing by about 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

But, our hopes were dashed when a wicked cold front blew in on Sunday, with plummeting temperatures and howling winds. The cold and high winds continued on Monday, as we hit the water for our first day of fishing.

Not surprisingly, the fish were not biting. We caught only one small sauger and a keeper walleye of 17 inches. In previous years, we have landed more fish than that in an hour. Needless to say, we were discouraged and even thought about coming home early, like the next day if the slow action continued.

Leaving early is not something we ever had even considered the first four years. But, we did not want to sit out in the cold for hours and catch no fish. We decided to get up early and fish in the river right out in front of Adrian’s Resort where we were staying. We had done well there in previous years and were hoping the weather and the fishing would improve.

And, that’s exactly what happened. Within an hour, I landed a beautiful 21-inch walleye on a jig and a minnow. It had to be released because it fell within the protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches. But, that didn’t matter. We finally started catching fish. The action wasn’t fast and the fish were biting light, but we still managed to get a two-man limit of eight walleyes by the end of the day.

We also experienced an amazing thrill in the afternoon, when Pete set the hook on a nice fish that he thought was a big walleye. As it continued to peel line off of his reel, I realized he had something bigger than a walleye. I thought it was a big northern, which are plentiful in this lake.

It turned out to be a monster sturgeon. It came up from the bottom and started coming up to the surface near the boat. Then, it flew out of the water right next to the boat and dove down again. As exciting as it was, Pete didn’t want to fight it for 45 minutes to an hour, so he cut the line so he could keep fishing for walleyes.

I will never forget the image of that sturgeon going airborne next to the boat. We kept fishing that spot and caught a few nice walleyes before heading back to the river.

I should say, Pete caught some more walleyes. For some reason, he had the hot hand that day. He caught all but two of the keepers and landed a nice 24-incher that we released. Meanwhile, I was getting lessons in patience and humility that I wasn’t all that interested in learning. My attitude soured for a while as I struggled with my lack of fish catching.

Then, strangely, the tables turned on our final morning, as I caught a beautiful 24-inch walleye within the first hour on the river in front of Adrian’s. Pete added two 18-inchers, then we headed down river toward Four-Mile Bay and a nice spot where we always seemed to catch fish.

We anchored and I proceeded to catch about eight to 10 nice keepers, while Pete managed only one or two small fish. It was his turn to experience frustration, but he handled it much better than I had the day before. In fact, he said several times that he was really glad I started to catch fish. Maybe, he wanted to avoid a six-hour drive home with a frustrated fisherman.

That’s the funny thing about these trips — often, we take turns getting hot and catching most of the fish. Not sure why that is. We use the same jigs with the same minnows as bait. Perhaps, our jigging styles are just different enough that one will sometimes work better than the other.

The good part is, we always manage to take home our limit of walleyes. That goal was more important this year. I’m planning on taking my fish out west to Great Falls, Montana, where my first wife’s parents live. Our whole family is going out over Thanksgiving week to spend time with my mother-in-law (Sharon Guditis) and father-in-law (Bob Guditis). I still call them my in-laws even though my first wife, Jennifer, is no longer living.

We will be going on an elk and mule deer hunt with Grandpa Bob on 150 acres of hunting land he owns about an hour away from Great Falls. Bob and Sharon both enjoy walleye and I’m glad to be able to have a fish fry for them. After all they do for us, it’s nice to be able to do something small in return. I know we’ll have a great time with them and I’m optimistic that we’ll see animals on our hunt.

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek