Huge walleye: lucky or good?
When I told my coworkers I caught a 25-inch walleye last Saturday from Lake Winnibigoshish, I received a lot of questions, like "Did you really catch it?" and "Are you pulling my leg?"
It wasn't until I showed them the picture of my fish did their faces show surprise and a little embarrassment from having doubted me. I don't blame them, though, I was a little surprised at the catch myself.
My experience with fishing began six years ago when I first met my husband, Ben, and I've gotten better at the sport ever since. I can differentiate between the playful bites of perch and the grab-and-run bites of northern pike.
But with walleyes, well, I'm still learning. I've gotten plenty of practice using jigs and minnows, but I never expected to catch a walleye trolling with a crankbait. It just never worked for me - until last week.
As many anglers who went out last Saturday recall, the day was windy. It was my first time fishing on Lake Winnie and Ben was driving the boat.
We fished the south end, from west to east, and for the first two hours had no luck in the white-capped waves. Jigging minnows proved unsuccessful; trolling with live bait rigs, the same. Finally, Ben declared we should try trolling some crankbaits.
He opened his tackle bag, pulled out his box full of crankbaits and said, "Pick out which one you want."
To a novice angler like me it was like looking into a bag of M&Ms. Besides the obvious color differences, they all looked alike; minnow replicas with lots of hooks attached.
Trying to think like an experienced walleye angler, I thought, "If I were a walleye, what would I want to eat?"
In the end I decided to choose one that appealed most to my eyes. I picked a white one with red on its chin. I think professional fishermen would agree, I was thinking like a pro.
We dropped our lures into the water, let out a lot of line, put our poles into their holders and started the motor. We trolled along a mid-lake bar with depths between 10 to 13 feet.
It took me by surprise when after five minutes Ben shouted for me to grab my fishing rod. I looked and sure enough my pole was bent in half.
He stopped the motor as I grabbed the pole and started reeling.
"I think it's a snag," I told Ben.
The reel didn't want to move very fast but nothing seemed to fight on the other end. It was like trying to drag a large rock.
He told me to keep reeling, so I did.
"Seriously, I think I hooked a log," I said.
Just keep reeling, he reminded me.
My anticipation of what was on the other end was killing me.
"How much line did I let out?" I wondered in frustration as I continued to reel.
I figure I must've looked like quite the fisherman as I stood crouched over with two hands holding tight to my fishing pole as I reeled in the heavy object.
Then I saw it. A two-foot-long, torpedo-shaped fish emerged from the depths of Lake Winnie about five feet from the boat.
"It's a northern pike!" I said, overwhelmed with excitement.
"No," Ben said, holding the net ready. "It's a big walleye!"
When it surfaced, I saw that it was a walleye - and a big one. Ben scooped it up with the net and laid it down on the bottom of the boat.
"Wow!" I shouted.
I couldn't believe I had caught a big walleye. And it was my first one of the year.
Ben was all smiles. He knew this one was double the length of any fish I had ever caught before. I was exhilarated.
After removing the lure from the fish's mouth and untangling it from the net, he measured it.
"25 inches. You did great!" he said proudly.
After showing me how to hold the walleye for a picture, Ben stepped back to take a picture as I posed with the fish, still shaking with excitement.
Fishing is fun, I thought. One big catch beats hours of catching nothing. After we released the walleye, we continued to fish until dinner time.
I know I'll remember my first walleye caught on Winnie. Five years ago I never would've predicted I'd frame a photo of myself holding a big one like the one I caught. I guess you could say I'm hooked on fishing now.