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2600 words
4 photos with negatives
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Wandering Walleyes
Rob F. Sanderson

Editor’s Note: This is a trip story of three fishermen after walleyed pike on a Canadian-Minnesota wilderness lake.This time the wallies didn’t stay put and instead of frequenting their regular holes they were playing hermit and the three fishermen found they had to run the truants down one by one in all parts of the lake.This is the way they finally got the fish in the pictures.

Wandering Walleyes

          Popper, Tom and I had been out on the water so long we ceased to speculate where the fish were, toyed idly with our minnow and spinner baits with a reflex action wrist wobble, and occasionally rocked the boat by shifting weight.

          “Now, if the water were perfectly calm, I could understand why the pike won’t bite,” Tom had remarked, looking at the monotonous little lapping waves whipped out of limpid lethargy by an erratic breeze that seemed to puff across the boundary lake from the Canadian side, and after putting the idle water to work washing the boat hull and the toes of the rocks along the shore, disappear into the Minnesota pinewoods along the south shore.

          Restless with inaction, we pulled out our lines at intervals to wind up the Seahorse 16 and whine off to another fishing hole. At each we met the same lukewarm hospitality-a fish or two to buoy up our hopes, and no more. It was all the more provoking because we knew that this border lake furnished international bathwater for thousands of fish and we knew from some four previous trips that we were fishing the best holes in the lake.

          Popper had his line our first, and before I could catch one of the fresh, spry minnows for my own hook, I heard a satisfied grunt and felt the boat rock as the hook set. The tubular rod quivered as of yore and I prepared to give the landing net one of its infrequent baptisms.

          “Big one!” Announced Popper enthusiastically. “Four, five pounds. Didn’t I tell you the fish were all down at this end of the lake?”

          I had a brief recollection that the idea had been Tom’s, but my comment was eclipsed by the fish landing. Scooping the net over its tail I hoisted the fish into the boat where we dodged spray while the hysterical walleye gyroscope the net mesh around the treble hook.

          Tom and I, eager to get in on the fast biting, dunked our lines as fast as we could get them out, leaving Popper to puzzle with the little net-and-hook problem. Seasons past we all had used single hooks, preferred to avoid net tangles at the expense of a few lost fish, but now we were resolute enough to resort to small trebles, not too large for the walleye’s big mouth, and a trailer hook designed to get the easy, tail-biters.

          All three lines were in on the same side of the boat before the next customer came along. I felt him nibble, gave him a couple of inches of line, then set the hook hard. The hook pulled him a few feet; then I felt the throbbing roll relapse. Half the minnow was gone, so I strung on another.

          My line had soaked in the water again two-three minutes when I felt the boat jar from the stern. Tom’s rod arched gracefully and I could see the steel rod vibrate under the quivering pull. Almost to the surface, the fish started under the boat, and Tom nearly fell over the stern as he guided the line around the outboard propeller to the other side.

          I never saw the landing, although I heard the flopping fish. For I had my bait-snatcher securely hooked and I resolved not to lose him this time. He gave a hard pull at first and for a couple of minutes I thought he was going to snag the anchor rope but from the way he quickly pooped out I was prepared to see the medium-minus fish that appeared on the end of the leader. The landing net still snagged by Tom’s treble, I gave the leader a hoisting swing and the fish was in the boat.

          “One, two, three - just like that!” I enthused. “I’ll have my five pounder baked tonight.” But the five pounder must have overheard me and warned all his little brothers, for from then on school had apparently dismissed.

          “Still three fish on the stringer?” Tom commented dryly an hour later. “We’re doing well to hold our own.”

          “The fish just aren’t here,” I observed subtly.

          “That’s right,” Popper had evidently changed his mind too. “From the way the first three started biting, we’d have filled the limit by now. We got what’s in this hole.”

          “Let’s move,” suggested Tom, who is a mechanical engineer and always anxious to run the motor, and he started to wind up his reel.

          “Yes, but let’s drift the boat,” was Popper’s idea. “Might be able to find a good hole that way. Then we can stop and catch a few.”

          I pulled anchor and soon the light north wind was gently shoving the three fishermen along the gently rocking lake surface. Soon I perceived the boat was drifting at a rather raid rate, and was going to say as much when Tom beat me to it.

          “The boat’s going too fast for a walleye spinner,” he opined. “I’m going to put on a daredevil and see what happens.

          Popper and I both put on sinkers to keep our lines down. I think Popper likes to put on heavy sinkers as they always make him feel he has a bite when he jerks in the slack. At any rate he put on a lead the size of a small cigar.

          “Reel in and run the motor back,” he announced after a few minutes. “I’m snagged on bottom.”

          Tom and I cranked in our reels, Tom in a mighty big hurry to get the motor going before all Popper’s line was out.

          “Fish!” he yelled before he had reeled in twenty feet of line. “Big one!”

          One line rock-snagged in deep water, a sturdy wind whisking us rapidly down the lake in a boat to big to row, and the motor man busy scrapping a tough fish! There was only one thing to do, and I threw out the anchor.

          But it didn’t touch - the water was too deep! Grabbing a coil of canoe tow-row, I spliced it onto the end of the anchor rope, waiting apprehensively. I felt the little navy anchor catch and then the rope tightened and the boat stopped. I looked at Popper’s reel and saw that the cork spool was only half covered by line.

          Tom’s fish was floundering on the surface now and before he could horse it up to the net it went down for another drink. But it was soon up again and Popper swooped it up in the net like a professor of etymology catching butterflies. Popper’s line unhooked after running the motor over the snag for a back pull, we started to drift again.

          “If we hook another fish here, let’s anchor,” Popper suggested, still clinging to the idea that walleyes were in schools somewhere (at least he knew they weren’t playing “hookey”). Meanwhile, he changed to a deep-running sinker plug, fearful of another snag with his former outfit. My own minnow had been lost somewhere so I changed to a small buck tail spoon.

          Over on the left I could see a bare rock reef protruding from the water. The boat was head between it and the shore about three hundred yards to the west of the reef, and it looked like a good place to snag a walleye or two. We were just close enough to frighten an osprey perched on the reef, when the first strike came.

          “Gotta strike!” Popper announced from between clamped teeth, reeling in his gaudy-colored plug that was all but concealed by clumps of hook gangs. The fish was a walleye and a nice one, and Popper said he had hit the bait well… unusual for a walleye.

          “Any fish’d get hooked by one look at that plug,” Tom kidded as Popper attempted to extricate it from the landing net mesh.

          A hundred feet downwind Tom got a strike. But the fish wasn’t well hooked and he soon shook off. We passed by the reef without further action.

          “How about another rehearsal?” asked Popper. “By floating over that reef again we ought to pick up another fish or two,” and he appraised his gaudy clump of gang hooks with a wicked gleam in his eye.

          The repeat trip hooked a small walleye and a little northern which we threw back. The third trip unfruitful, we drifted on with the wind. At one place the shore lowered and waterweeds grew out into the water for some distance. Tom tried to scull further out with the aid of an oar, and we were opposite a little weedy bay when I heard a commotion in the stern. Turning, I saw him trying to hang onto both an oar and the jerking rod. The oar lost and fell with a splash.

          After a few bulldog tactics, the fish came in steadily for a number of turns of the reel. Then he made a sudden run, snatching control of the reel for a twenty-foot gain. The solid steel rod was bent into a semi-circle; I could feel the boat drawing toward the pull and I knew this was no walleye. Looking down at the shallow net basket, I dropped it to the floor and made ready with the gaff hook.

          The fighting fish was now almost up to the boat. I could see his long, shadowy form as he dashed from side to side, turning viciously at the end of each run. Leaning out with the gaff, I made ready for the crucial moment. Just up to the boat the fish gave a boiling somersault and sounded under the boat, unspooling the reel with uneven lunges. The boat was moving downwind and Tom was now reeling in just fast enough to maintain a hard pull.

          “Starting to wallow,” Tom said presently. “I’m going to bring him in.”

          Seated in the rear with the line over the stern, Tom reminded me of a deep-sea angler. Yard by yard the line came in until we could see the big fish rolling on the surface about thirty feet astern. Then he submerged and the line kept coming in.

          “Be ready,” warned Tom. “He won’t stay close to the boat long.”

          I was all set to answer ‘ready’, my hands clenched solidly on the gaff handle, when Tom suddenly fell backward with a jerk, the rod flipped up and the line went limp… broken! Evidently frayed where it had rubbed the front guide in casting.

          Just then I heard the drag on my own reel, which I had forgotten for several minutes after I had pulled it in short during the big fracas.

          “’nother big one,” suggested Popper enthusiastically, but as soon as I set the hook I knew it wasn’t. It felt like a little jack for a while, but at the boat it proved to be a walleye.

          Down the shore a point of land came out into the water, and beyond it the arm of the lake made an elbow. From there on we’d be out of the wind and couldn’t drift any longer.

          “Might as well run back with the motor and drift down again,” suggested Tom.

          “Wait till we drift over the point,” Popper thought Tom’s suggestion premature. And it was!

          For off the point, Tom and I got strikes at once. Popper cranked his reel to get his line out of the way and soon was ready with the net. But alas! My line pulled out just as fast as the boat drifted, and I knew I had snagged the reef point. I dropped anchor while Tom brought a three-pound walleye to net.

          We tried the reef again and this time Popper and I hooked a walleye a piece and got them to the stringer. For convenience, Tom took the big outboard off the stern and put on the little 2 ½ h.p. egg beater we carry in the boat for manipulating or emergency power.

          Time after time we drifted over the reef and others along the shore, reeling in our lines slightly to top the rocky bottom, then run the motor upwind and drift back. Sometimes we would miss getting a strike, but once in a while we would hook two on one crossing. It was fun and we forgot all about time until the engineer spoke.

          “Fishing plugs aweigh!” he admonished. “Fifteen miles to the cabin,” and he installed the brute motor on the stern again. I put away the tackle while Popper hauled in the string of fish and wrapped them in a tarp, and then we were whining away toward the western sun which ran from us to eventually hide completely beyond the spires of the horizon pines, away and away down the lake.

          It was heavy dusk when the engineer cut the motor, the heavy craft gliding over submerged rocks and through water pads into the shallow cove behind the cabin. There was a light at the landing and even before we neared it we knew the cook was there to meet us with the brilliant beacon of a gasoline lantern.

          “What luck?” was the unnecessary though tactful question, as we never stay out after sun down time unless we come home with fins aplenty. And then, as the tarp was opened and the white light glistened off the wet shiny-wet sides of the black fish, “Where? What hole?”

          “All over the lake, no hole,” Popper spoke. “These are Wandering Willie Walleyes, and we’re the piscatorial truant officers who rounded up every naughty Walleye who wasn’t in school yesterday, and today too!”

          “And I’m the schoolmarm!” added the Cook, elbows akimbo. “Skillet’s hot - let’s tan the truants!”


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob