20 Minute Walleyes by James L. Bruner
I suppose I’m comfortably at a point in life to make the remark of “when we were young” without sounding like a youngster trying to act older. In fact it’s probably a good idea that I start putting more and more of these memories on paper while I still remember them. I would argue the point all day that I’m still active and spry as a young man in his 20’s but the half century mark looming around the corner tells me differently. I may no longer be invincible but my keen sense of judgment has been honed by instinctive wisdom while my razor sharp tongue cuts quickly to the point. So. Now that I have myself worked into a rabid frenzy of self-justification and all the cogs in my melon are turning in the same direction I’m going to do a little reflecting on a memorable fishing trip because in case you forgot, I have to start writing things down.
When I think of memorable fishing my brain doesn’t always take me to a time when I did battle with numerous fish species. It can be the events leading up to the fishing that scooped out a little corner in my longterm memory or maybe even the characters involved in the event. And, sometimes it’s all of the above as it was in the case of a late summer evening that evolved into early morning walleye fishing escapades on the shores of Little Bay De Noc when I was 15 years old.
I had walked down to the shoreline an hour before dark hoping to catch a few smallmouth bass to cap off the evening. It was your typical bass hangout with rows of old wooden pylons from a long forgotten dock with deeper water to each edge and thick weedbeds beginning to form further to the sides. Great ambush and structure points by any definition of the word. It was typical to also catch a few northern pike in this same area so it was in reality a hit or miss game for the bass fishing. The waters surface was smooth as glass reflecting a perfect mirror image of the fading sunlight. The shoreline was mostly tall grass with a few large boulders here and there that seemed to be placed purposely to trip any passerby. A heavy foot-trail followed the edge of the water for a hundred yards or so before tapering off to a sea of flowing grasses and weeds. The opposite direction held much of the same along the water’s edge with the exception of a creek entering the bay about 300 yards down the shore. We called it the Horsebridge for reasons I’ve never known but it wasn’t much of a fish attractant except for the spring and fall when fish were looking for spawning grounds. With light fading I opted to navigate the tall grass and work my way to the edge of the water to fish along the weedline.
I chucked a silver and black Rapala Fat Rap into the glossy surface with a resounding plop that sent small wakes of water racing out of sight. Anticipating a strike on the very first cast always gets the best of me but I soon found myself yanking in a pile of weeds that held tight to my lure. Obviously a poor choice of lures for this spot. I moved down the shoreline a bit and found a perfect area where the weeds began to taper off. I could rip the lure through the small weeds that tried to grab hold yet still retain the action of the lure enough to be effective. On the third cast a foot long smallie fell prey to the presentation and confirmed my choices but what really caught my attention was a small boil of water deep in the weedbed. As I tossed the fish back into the water I stayed crouched at the shoreline watching in hopes that I might catch a glimpse of the fish working the surface. It was then that it began. Dozens of fish began to ripple the surface like an evening trout rise pulling down insects. And the activity grew with each minute until the water was teaming with small little ripples. It was about that time when I began to wonder what the hell was taking place that a bigger fish jumped clear from the water landing back on the busy surface with a loud splash. Before I knew it the small ripples had been replaced by huge boils in the water and realizing that these were some sort of game fish, I began casting again.
On my first cast I pulled in a snagged fish. Unidentifiable in my eyes it was similar to the shape of a bass and about 5 inches long but it was pure silver in color and very active. I threw him back and on the second cast once again hooked another of these small fish. It was obvious these must be the smaller fish rippling the surface but I was puzzled as to what the bigger fish might be. I fumbled through my tacklebox and found a Redeye which was closest to the size and color of the baitfish. On the third toss I hooked into a bigger fish and within moments a 25 inch walleye was laying beside me in the grass. A couple casts later brought another walleye about the same size and then, just as quickly as it started, it all seemed to just stop. That was it. No small fish, no big fish, no nothing. I made a stringer from a stick on the shore and carried the two big walleyes home in the dark and explained the story to dad.
The next night dad and I headed to the same spot at about the same time. There were 2 boats trolling the weeds but they motored away shortly afterward. We waited for an hour casting into the darkness without seeing or hearing anything and figured the boats probably changed our night of fishing. Or maybe it was just one of those dumb luck fish stories where I had been in the right place at the right time. As we were leaving I heard a small splash of water so we stopped and listened. Within 10 minutes the area was once again filled with walleyes and baitfish. Dad and I each pulled in 2 walleye in the mid 20 inch range before the frenzy came to an abrupt halt and the return of the boats sent a message that we weren’t the only ones aware of the walleye feeding frenzy. We fished two more nights with nearly identical results but each night the event took place later and later and, if you weren’t there at the right time it was difficult to know if you had missed it since you had about 20 minutes maximum of actual fishing activity. It had become a waiting game and the word was getting out.
Several days later we heard from a friend of the family that had been down at the bait shop that the walleyes were hitting at night down around the old marina. Dad and I kind of chuckled. I stopped by the weedbed 2 days later and pulled a 30 inch northern pike from the bay just before the sunset. The shoreline was padded down from all the people walking through the sea of tall grass. It was obvious a lot of people had been fishing here lately but the probability of them being here at the right time was fairly slim unless they had a lot of patience. Or a lot of luck. Which, I suppose I had in two ways. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to catch the fish and, lucky enough to remember to write it down. Even if it’s 30 years later.