I've been a Minnesotan all my life. But, contrary to a nationally held opinion of Minnesotans, I don't eat lefsa or lutefisk. Or know all that much about catching walleyes, even though I consider myself a fisherman. That brings up the question, can a Minnesotan call himself a fisherman if he doesn't fish for walleyes?
It's not that I haven't caught them, even hundreds of them. However, all were Canadian walleyes and, in Minnesota, they don't count. Too innocent, too easily fooled, and well, just not American.
I'm willing to accept the idea that Minnesota walleyes have seen it all and in the popular lakes seem to require big boats, big motors, and more electronics that a WWII battleship. So I'm back to leaning on my assets as a fisherman. And those assets aren't found in the tackle shops or boat yards but instead, are about locating walleyes nearly as innocent as the ones north of the border. And that requires research and the willingness to drive through crap on rocky, rutted two tracks to waters that aren't commonly known or fished.
Of course there are those, the locals who've fished them for a couple of generations and wisely kept their mouths shut, who know about those lakes. Since I've been in my up-north neck of the woods for thirty-two years now, I'm almost a local. Probably as close as I'll ever be. And I've found my walleye lake. At least I think I have. For the moment the only walleyes I've seen in said lake are the ones netted by the DNR and listed on a lake chart. Not so much walleyes as they are numbers. Unless the DNR netted the lake clean, they're still there.
As to catching them, first they've got to be found. Okay, I've found a lake with walleyes in it. Next comes the task of locating them under the surface of that lake. Electronics would make that a lot easier but I'm old school (rhymes with old fool). And don't do that.
On the other hand I've got access to the internet. No, I don't take my laptop in the canoe with me. But I do use it as a research tool. It's like talking with old-timers who've been catching pickerel (hoser for walleye) since Roosevelt (Teddie, not that young whipper-snapper Franklin) was in the White House.
Yeah, it's contradictory to use one high-tech tool and badmouth another. But my entire canoe and backwoods wise man schtick is a pretend thing (more closely related to cheap than choice). As is my ability to find obscure, off the beaten track, lakes to fish and even know what's in them. Nothin' like the man riding shotgun ask me with amazement, "How in the hell do you find these lakes?" Like I'm a regular Johnny Appleseed with a fishin' pole. Does my ego good. However, I'll always tell them I use Google Earth as it's much easier seeing what's behind the trees when you're looking down from outer space with a billion dollar telescope.
But, once I'm on the water it's back to the old days for it's what I've retained in my brain that matters. Look at the sky, scope the waves and treetops for wind direction, check out the weeds for type, feel the water (my thermometer broke years ago), and look at the shoreline for hills and swamp. All of them are clues. Having a lake map also helps. Tells you a lot about the bottom but, since it's a crutch, it stays at the cabin.
All of the tools I use are no more than aids that allow me to jump past the first couple of steps usually provided by experience. Maybe half the lakes I fish have been learned through research. The virgins were cases of seeing blue on the map or in passing on a back road and thinking, "Looks like it might hold fish." Then eventually putting the canoe on its surface and a line in the water.
This year's trip will be at the end of May. Under normal circumstances most everything, except muskies, will be done spawning and back on the bite. Bluegills will be found on the beds and will hit anything that passes. It's a great time to fish up here in Minnesota.
However, nothing about this Spring is normal. It'll be the latest ice-out since the Spring of '96. And that one was the latest since 1950. At the moment the walleye lake in question is under a foot and a half of snow. Typically ice-out would be around April 20th. Last year it was the 20th of March. This year it'll probably be early May. Not good.
Back in '96 I distinctly remember walking into a bait shop by the cabin and asking, "What's biting?" The man's answer was simple, "Nothing. Not even crappies." And he was right. It was four days of casting and dredging. The lakes near the Canadian border were still icebound.
This year I don't think it'll be that late. And we're going a week later. Hope springs eternal but the weatherman is calling for cold and snow for the next week. Over the next two days another foot is supposed to fall on our walleye lake.
Whatever the conditions there's no doubt the ice will be gone before the four of us launch the canoes. Then it's up to us to figure out what'll work. Logic says the walleyes will be in the shallows looking for warm water, two to ten feet deep, on sand or small rocks. Possibly in the cabbage if there's any growing. Then the rule of thumb calls for small colorful jigs, eighth or sixteenth ounce, tipped with minnows be they real or Gulp Alive, or possibly leeches. Cast 'em out and drag them along the bottom slowly, very slowly. All the while thinking any small tick or weight might be a fish.
Most of that knowledge came from reading a dozen articles on Spring walleye fishing. Oddly enough Allan and I used the same tactics in Canada. The only difference was in the far north we substituted twister tails for the minnows. Don't know if that would work down here in the southland. Probably not. After all, our walleyes are smarter than theirs.