When Burnie Trepanier's rattle reel sounded and his line slowly sank under the ice about 8 a.m. Wednesday, the veteran ice angler was excited. Years of staring down a hole had taught Trepanier how to read a bite and the best way to react.
"The fish sucked the line down and I let it run. I wanted to give it time to get hooked," Trepanier said. "When the fish started on its second run I set the hook."
Trepanier was working Diamond Point Bar on Lake Bemidji when the fish hit. He had caught his share of walleyes from this 19-foot drop but this hook set seemed especially impressive.
"It was very heavy," Trepanier said, "and it was shaking its head like a walleye does. At first I thought I had either a giant northern pike or a big muskie but the way it was acting told me I had a giant walleye."
After a long battle Trepanier finally was gaining ground. Inch by inch he raised the fish and finally he was in position to land his catch.
"When I brought the fish up to the hole the first thing that came out was a winter fishing rod and reel," Trepanier said. "The next thing that came up was a 28-inch walleye along with a tangle of braided line. And then up came about a 6-pound eelpout. I couldn't believe my eyes."
Trepanier is a devoted ice fisherman. During the summer months the construction worker rarely has the opportunity to wet a line. In the winter, however, Trepanier spends as much time as possible in his fish house.
"About 15 years ago I lost a $100 rod and reel that was a Christmas present because we set it on a bucket but didn't open the bail and a fish took it down the hole. But I've never caught a rod and reel before," Trepanier said. "And I've never heard of anyone catching a rod and reel, a walleye and an eelpout at the same time."
The circumstances of Trepanier's unusual catch are difficult to chronicle but the evidence suggests a convoluted timeline and an improbable series of events.
"I think what first happened was that someone had his rod and reel sitting on a bucket or on a bed in the fish house and the walleye dragged it through the hole before the fisherman could react," Trepanier said. "During its struggles the walleye got tangled in the braided line and that line broke.
"On Wednesday the eelpout hit my sucker minnow and while I was letting it run it latched onto the line, the fishing pole and the walleye."
How long the walleye had been hooked and where the tale had its start are impossible to determine.
"The walleye was skinny for its size and overly stressed," Trepanier said. "It had swallowed the hook but I don't think it had been dragging this fishing pole for a long time. The jig was faded and the hook was rusted but the fishing pole was in great condition. There were some weeds on the reel but, overall, the rod and reel are in very good shape."
The rod is a 28-inch medium action that was purchased at L&M Fleet and the rod and reel combination are from Northland Tackle.
Attached to the braided line was a monofilament leader and a distinctive, long and skinny large orange bobber with a soft tip.
"I've never seen a bobber like that before," Trepanier said. "It would be fun to find out where the walleye was caught and where the fishing pole was lost," Trepanier said. "It would be fun to hear the story from the other side."
The original owner of the rod and reel, however, should not expect to have the equipment returned. Trepanier has other plans for his new tackle.
"My uncle, Bob Blank, told me to have everything mounted," Trepanier said. "He said that this would never happen again and that he would even pay the taxidermist. So that is what I am going to do.
"Wednesday was a pretty cool day in the fish house," Trepanier added. "It was a morning that I'll never forget."