Walleye League – The rest of 2012
It was about 40 degrees in Minneapolis yesterday while we checked out a place for Junior on the campus of the University of Minnesota. As I type this post it is -15 in Bemidji. So what better way to relax on a bitter cold Sunday than to revisit my long-neglected blog and catch everyone up on the rest of the 2012 walleye league.
I believe I left you at week 7, a fairly productive evening on Wolf lake. The memory is probably clear because the following few weeks were not pretty. After the 4th of July break we headed out to Beltrami. We’ve had a mix of luck on that lake over the years, but for some reason lake Beltrami had our number this year. Out of a total of 4 nights of fishing I think we might have found one walleye… and week 9 was no different. We hit every go-to spot we had and wound up with our first blank of the year. Fish were definitely caught that evening and so we gave up some ground as the rest of the pack added precious points to their totals heading into the last few weeks of the season.
Week 10 found us on Turtle River lake… one of my favorites when the bite is on. We tried a good mixture of bait and locations to see if we could find some active fish, but again luck was not on our side. There are good patches of cabbage all over that lake and we hit the ones that we had some luck on previously, but we just couldn’t coax out any fish. We went from shiners to crawlers and finally to crankbaits along our favorite stretches but we could not coax a single walleye into biting. There was good news and bad news when we finally loaded up the boat at the landing. Most teams had the same luck we had… poor, but the teams that did find some fish were the teams right on our heels. Two blanks in a row had us scratching our heads heading into the home stretch.
Around weeks 9 and 10 I headed out to lake Bemidji with my bride to fish with the Turtle River guys on Thursday night. We had a great night, catching about 24 walleyes, but were a little surprised at how small they were with most fish at or below 13 inches. This is the time of year where we like to get up on the shallow flats towards the evening to find some big girls, but there just weren’t any to be found. When we pulled lake Bemidji for league on week 11 I was hopeful that we would be able to count on the same locations to produce a few fish to try and break our streak of blanks. While the results were not stellar, we were able to run crank baits on some of our favorite spots in 8-10 feet and found enough small fish to put together 8 points for the night to hang on to our precarious top 4 position.
We had three nights left for the season. We knew that Big Turtle was one of the last lakes, we still had a “Mystery Lake” left to choose and then we would take our bye the last night on Bemidji for our annual Lac Seul adventure. So on the weekend before league my wife and I headed to to Big Turtle to do some exploring. We had actually been looking at lake lots and houses online and wanted to see a few of the places from the lake side, so this was as much a sight-seeing tour as it was a fishing expedition. The wind was brisk that day and we stopped at a few potential walleye spots to test out a few different presentations. We marked a few, but as we traveled from north to south on our sightseeing/fishing expedition the fishing half of the equation was looking dismal. Toward the end of the afternoon we had one house left to check out, so we reeled in and headed to that unexplored portion of the lake. We casually cruised by the house and I noted the depth and thought that we should try crankbaits just for fun. My bride tossed out a #5 shallow runner and we went no more than 20 feet and she got the “whack”. She reeled in and I dipped the net under a nice 18 walleye. We seemed to have stumbled on to something. For the rest of the evening we worked a stretch of shoreline a few hundred yards long and caught and released a few nice fish. We made some mental notes and headed home.
As luck would have it, on week 12 we pulled Big Turtle. Now I would like to say that we were subtle about heading right to the spot, but when you have about as close to a sure thing as this you don’t mess around. We knew that we were hitting it a bit earlier that when we fished it on the weekend, but we had plenty of ground to cover and plenty of time to cover it. This particular area is about 11-12 feet deep with cabbage that comes up to about 7 or 8. It’s perfect for running crankbaits. If you can hold the edge, great… otherwise you can drift a bit shallow and run right over the tops of the weeds. The first couple of hours were very quiet. We didn’t have much to show for our efforts, but we did manage to find a couple of fish big enough to keep us out of the basement for the night. We expanded the length of our run a bit and discovered another “hot zone” where the hits seemed to be a bit more consistent, but as the evening grew on we started to wonder if the few little ones were going to cut it for the night. About half-way through our run there is a nice point where I have to make a sharp turn to get the boat moving from east-west to north-south. It was just at the end of the turn that I got a nice solid smack and pulled in our first decent fish… a fat 18-19 incher that could help put us near the top. 5 minutes later we were turning into a bend and the end of the run when I got another good whack. I reeled in what looked to be an exact twin of the fish I caught just minutes before. With two good fish in the box and two more to round out our 4 fish league limit we puttered along the shoreline another few minutes, stowed our gear and headed back to the landing early for a change. I have to admit, it’s way more fun weighing in early and watching the rest of the fish come in when you know you have a decent bag of fish. And as it turns out, our 4 were good enough for first place and 15 points. While not enough to give us first place overall, we were in good shape to make the fish-offs if we could just end the regular season with a decent finish.
Picking a “Mystery Lake” is just a matter of each team putting a lake name in the hat. The lake that gets pulled is the lake we fish. To a chorus of a few muffled groans, the lake for the night was Wolf. Now, there is nothing particularly wrong with Wolf lake… it’s a great lake, but … as I have documented here before… it can be fairly tough late in the season. Not impossible… just tough. Trev and I were torn. We did fairly well on it during week 7, but that was at the end of June. This was August 7 and a completely different lake in terms of temperature and weed growth. As we did during week 7, we hit just about every hump and nook and cranny where we had found fish before. We tried crawlers and leeches, we tried cranks and we struck out with everything everywhere. As the evening grew on we were pulling cranks like we usually do and were getting nothing but a few northerns here and there. After a few years of doing this league you get to recognize a couple of distinct feelings, and the one we had that night was that sinking feeling that there wasn’t a chance in Hades that we were going to weigh any fish that night. Boats have to be at the landing by 9:30 and we were closing in on 9:00 with nothing in the live well. The only idea we had left was to head back to the hump we fished back in June. We had already made a couple of passes over it earlier, but it was plenty dark now and our hope was that a few fish had worked their way up to the top. We hit the hump at about 9:10 and flipped out the shallow runners for our first pass. Now it might seem strange to many anglers, but I don’t recall too many details about the fish or sizes, but we somehow managed, in 10 minutes to put three nice fish in the live well. With one eye on the clock and one on the wheel we made our last pass, secured our rigs and beat it to the landing. There were some fish caught that night and you can imagine my pleasant surprise to learn that our three last minute fish weighed enough to place us second for the night and 14 points. We were in first place with only one week to go. We knew that there was little chance that we would hang on to first place overall because we took our bye the next week while we headed to Canada, but we knew that when we returned we would be fishing in the 2012 fish-offs.
Fishing up on Lac Seul is terrible practice for walleye league. Up there you basically go out and look for fish (which isn’t super difficult) and when you mark them you fish them and generally catch them. So we returned from our trip and hit Taber’s on Tuesday night to see what the first night of fish-offs held in store. Fish-offs is a two night event. The top eight teams fish Tuesday and Thursday night. The top combined weight for both nights is the champion. Very simple. The lakes are randomly picked each night, just like the Mystery Lake. Every team puts a lake in the hat and the one that gets pulled is the lake we hit. Night 1 of the 2012 fish-offs would be on Cass Lake. Cass is not a lake we fish often, but over the years we have found a few spots that have produced. We grabbed crawlers and leeches knowing that we would be working a couple of different spots and then figured to hit the top of our favorite bars with cranks as soon as the sun dipped below the trees. We did the shotgun start and headed off to our first target when I noticed something odd going on with the depth finder. The older Lowrance LCX26c was a bit dimmer than usual. On these units you just hit the power button quick to move between different brightness settings but that had no effect. I powered off, then on and to my dismay was met with nothing but a bunch of scrambled garbage on the display. Awesome. Night 1 of fish-offs and our main electronics were hosed. Fortunately I had an older 334c from my previous boat stuck in the glove box “just in case”. While I buzzed out to our spot squinting at the 334 on the bow, Junior hooked up the other 334 on the console. It wasn’t pretty, but we threw in the Lakemaster chip, connected the same power and sonar and rested the unit on the dash to have a functioning setup for the night. We began our search on a mid-lake hump and soon spotted some fish in about 20 feet of water off the south end. There was a bit of a wind that night, so I was using the Fortrex on the front to move us into the wind and then let the wind carry us back around to where we started. Going in circles like this I got my first “tap-tap” on a leech and lindy rig. I let the line go a bit, reeled up the slack and set the hook into a nice 16 inch walleye. Things were starting to look up!. Trev and I worked that hump for most of the evening and managed to pick up four fish all about the same size. As the light began to fade we decided to work the top of the hump with cranks to see if we could find a decent upgrade. We did mange to boat another small walleye, but as we got closer to weigh-in time we knew we had to at least try a couple other humps. There are a couple of nice stretches south of Star Island that have some good weed growth and usually hold a fish or two, but a couple of passes along our favorite section produced nothing. We moved to another hump closer to the landing and started making our first pass along the top side in 8 feet when Trev got a nice hit. With the sun fully down we had to use our headlamps to boat the fish and were pleasantly surprised to shine the light on a nice 19 inch walleye. Time was ticking down and we were only able to make a couple more before we finally hit the throttle and headed for the landing. At the weigh-in it was great to see that everyone was able to catch some fish. The low weight was just over three pounds and Winky and Moran had the top weight of 7.89 pounds which included a nice 4.45 walleye for big fish of the night. Our total weight was 5.61 pounds… good for second place and just a couple of pounds away from the top. Literally every team was still in the hunt as we headed home thinking about what Thursday would bring.A great deal of thought goes into the lake a team chooses for the second night of fish-offs. The previous year our total was zero going into the last night, so we needed a lake that could produce some big fish. This year we were behind again, but just needed to be able to pull in a couple more pounds than Winky to take over the lead. We threw Bemidji in the hat basically because it is one of our best lakes. Not surprising though, we pulled Julia for the second year in a row. Julia is a favorite for a few teams because it can occasionally produce some very nice fish. For a team that knows the lake, there is a great chance to make up some ground with a couple of fat fish. We don’t mind Julia… we picked it last year for the final night and did well… but at the end of the season it gets a nasty algae growth that can really wreak havoc with your line and make certain areas just about impossible to fish. We generally start out with leeches and crawlers and this night was no different. There’s a nice little point that we like to fish that usually holds some fish so we started out there. Earlier in the year I fished the point with my bride and we did very well pulling crawlers through a little school of active fish. As Trev and I moved over the spot we started marking fish … the difference on this night was that they didn’t seem too interested in what we had to offer. We varied the presentation with crawlers and leeches and even tried dropping a jig down there. It was frustrating to see them sitting down there without so much as a bite. After spending too much time trying to coax those fish into biting we moved on. We tried a little rock pile to the north, then made our way back to another point on the east side. Nothing. As the evening grew on we went to cranks and tried pulling them through some great weed beds that generally produce walleyes, but the clumps of algae on the surface made any kind of lengthy run just about impossible and extremely frustrating. There is a stretch along the north end that we really wanted to work, but several boats had been working that area all night, so we continued trying other stretches that had produced in the past with no luck. After fighting the algae clumps long enough, we could see that one little corner on the other side was vacant and should be relatively algae-free. We buzzed in and started working in tight to the shoreline when I finally got a the first smack of the night. It was a fat little 16 incher and we were on the board. It was a tight little area and a very short run from a corner to a point, but we kept working it back and forth. Finally Trev got his first hit. We had the headlamps strapped on and I was working on keeping the boat away from the shore and out of the weeds while Trev reeled in. He knew it was a decent fish and when I dipped the net under it I could see that it was over 20. He unhooked it and put it in the well while I got us back into position. We managed to boat one more 16-17 incher before we had to pack up and see where the chips were going to fall. We both had our doubts about our total weight knowing that the chance of one or two really big fish coming in was high. As I pulled our boat out I told Winky we were probably close to 5 pounds and he figured they were close… so it was going to come down to the final weigh-in for the answer. When I finally saw Trev pull out his big fish I was encouraged. It was fat and probably close to 23 inches. On the scale it went 3.42 and when we added the other two we sat with 6.53 pounds. When the weights were all tallied we waited as Ron ticked off each place. I knew we were close and when he announced that Larry and Dan took third I knew we were really close. I looked at Trev as Ron announced that Winkler and Moran had second place and knew that finally, after 6 years of grinding it out, we finally won Taber’s league. Our final total of 12.14 was just enough by half a pound to seal the deal. A fun finish to a fun season. Can’t wait to defend in 2013!