“I should have put on my long underwear,” I thought to myself as our boat headed north across the lake. “Maybe I should get the heavy sweater out of my wet bag to stay warmer.”
It was very cool, and the wind was blowing across the lake. Ken Finer and I were on a fishing trip on Lake of the Woods. We were staying at Ballard’s Resort near Baudette, Minn. This was my third fishing trip with Ken at this resort. On the boat with us was a retired couple from Topeka, Kan., Bob and Sue Rathmasen. Our boat captain and guide was named Kent.
The forecast was for decent weather. “Maybe when the fish start biting, I won’t be cold,” I thought.
Soon I had a fish on my line, and I forgot about the cold. I landed the first fish of the trip, a nice-sized walleye. The weather improved as the morning went on, and so did the fishing.
Most of the fishing was done around the island chain of Little Oak, Shady, Norman and Hay islands in the northern part of Lake of the Woods. Rocky reefs run between the islands, Making good habitat preferred by walleye and sauger.
Sometimes Kent would anchor the boat, and other times he would let it drift between the islands. We would let our bait sink to the bottom of the lake, usually about 20 feet deep, and bounce it off the bottom to attract the fish.
Our first day of fishing was very good. The weather was nearly perfect, and the fish were biting. No big fish were caught ,but we had plenty of “good-eating-size” fish. Our boat members and the guide from another boat and his passengers had a shore lunch on Little Oak Island.
The island is owned by Ballard’s Resort. The guides cooked walleye, sauger, and one large perch, that we had just caught in the morning and served it with fried potatoes and baked beans. It was a delicious meal. I don’t think any fish taste better than a freshly caught walleye. After our lunch we went back to the boats, and in a couple of hours we had our limit of walleye for the day.
The weather forecast for Tuesday, Sept. 3 was not good. The prediction was for rain and strong winds. The forecast was correct. I woke up about 5 a.m. to a howling wind and rain beating on the roof of the cabin. This was not going to be a good day for being on a boat or fishing, but we tried anyway.
The strong winds kept the fishing boats from going onto the big lake. All of the boats stayed in the sheltered areas, like the nearby shallow Four Mile Bay and the Rainy River. Even in the sheltered areas, our boat rocked in the strong wind, and a misty rain kept hitting me in the face with varying degrees of intensity.
My rain suit kept me dry, and the long johns helped reduce the effect of the cold wind, but it was a miserable day for fishing — stormy weather and very few fish on the lines.
During the lull times of fishing, of which there were several, I would look for birds. I saw two species of gulls plus cormorants, white pelicans, mallard ducks and a family of majestic bald eagles.
Two adults and one immature eagle were frequently seen flying across the river from the resort. Big, black ravens were spotted several times, and their loud, hoarse call was often heard in the deep woods on shore. I was hoping to see a boreal chickadee to add to my life list, but I did not see any of these little birds.
Most of the fish caught in the bay and river were released because they were small, but we did catch enough walleye and sauger for our Tuesday evening super.
By Wednesday, Sept. 4, our last day of fishing, the storm had abated, but gusty winds continued to blow. The wind and waves made for an uncomfortable hour-long boat ride to the island chain. At times a misty rain was in the air, which added to my discomfort.
We started fishing off the shore of Little Oak Island. The wind formed waves that continually rocked boat. I was cold, and for a while I thought I might get seasick. There was no need to jig our rods because the constant wave motion bounced the lures off the bottom.
Our group of five people sat with their fishing rods in their hands, waiting and waiting for some action, but no one was having any bites. We were offering the fish a choice of worms and shiner minnows, but they did not seem to be interested in biting on either bait.
Kent kept calling other boats to see whether they were having any luck fishing, but they all reported that they were catching few fish, and there were many minutes between bites. The guides blamed the poor fishing on the storm that blew through the area the previous day.
Little bait-stealer fish kept taking our bait and if we caught a little one, it was released. About 9:30 a.m. Ken Finer caught the first keeper walleye of the day. The other people in the boat would occasionally catch a fish that went into the cooler. However, most of the fish we caught were too small to keep. The early morning fishing was very slow.
About noon the dark stratus clouds began to break up, and blue sky and sunshine appeared. When the weather improved, so did the fishing. Our captain had just anchored the boat off the west shore of Shady Island when Sue dropped her line. She had a minnow attached to a lead-headed jig and before it hit bottom she yelled, ” I got a fish, and it is a big one!”
The fish pulled line off her reel for a second or two, then it stopped moving. All of us watched her, the rod was bent into a bow as she tried to pull the fish to the boat. The guide said it was probably a northern pike.
She pulled up on the rod and slowly began to turn the reel. She would turn the reel a couple of times bringing the fish closer, but it fought back and took out more line. Sue was having a struggle with the fish, but she was enjoying the fight, and the fish was losing the battle.
When she got the fish near the boat, we all saw that it was a large northern pike. The guide got its head in the landing net and then lifted it into the boat. It was over 12 pounds and more 30 inches long with a thick girth. We kept the fish long enough for photographs, and then it was gently released back into the lake.
Shortly after the pike was released, Ken hooked a fish that gave him a fight. He landed a walleye that was 23 inches long and weighed four to five pounds. Sadly it was a slot fish and had to be released. Walleye that are between 18 and 28 inches long — slot fish — are the fish that are the breeding stock of the lake and must be returned to the water. This was the only slot fish we caught in three days of fishing.
The guides from Ballard’s Resort very strictly follow the fishing regulations regarding size and limits.
I was lucky to catch the last keeper fish of the day, a sauger that weighed about 1.5 pounds. With my fish we had reached the daily limit for our party of five, with 25 fish on ice in the cooler. Our guide pulled the anchor and headed for the resort. The day had ended with some good fishing, and we were going home with our limit of walleye.