Well, another Minnesota walleye opener is in the books, and a memorable one it was.
Jason Laumb of Grand Forks and I ventured north Friday afternoon, Laumb’s boat in tow, for the three-hour drive to Ballard’s Resort. Situated north of Baudette, Minn., near the mouth of the Rainy River, Ballard’s has been the site of several memorable adventures over the years, and this year was no exception.
Much of Lake of the Woods remained locked in ice opening weekend, but Rainy River and adjacent Four-Mile Bay have been open several days. After checking in and unloading some of our gear, we launched the boat Friday evening and decided to give the sturgeon a try for a couple of hours.
Harvest season for these prehistoric-looking fish, which can weigh more than 100 pounds, ended May 7, but sturgeon are fair game for catch-and-release fishing through Wednesday.
Anchored at the edge of a deep hole in about 25 feet of water, we hadn’t been fishing more than 10 minutes when I felt a tap on my line, followed by a distinct pull.
I set the hook, and the battle was on.
Anyone who fishes with me on a regular basis will attest that I change line on my reels every decade or so (whether I need to or not), and the rod I was using to battle the sturgeon had spent the winter in a cold garage — right where I had left it last September.
I should have removed at least a few yards of the oldest line, but of course I didn’t, and I now found myself battling the biggest fish I’d tangled with in quite some time on questionable 30-pound test line.
Judging by the bend in my fishing rod, there’d be little room for error if the line was worn or nicked.
I played the sturgeon more gingerly than I otherwise would have and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the line held up fine — better than my back, actually, which was beginning to cramp up from playing the fish. That never used to happen, and I’ve had the good fortune of landing sturgeon weighing more than 70 pounds.
Must be a sign of old age. …
After a battle that lasted perhaps 20 minutes or more, the sturgeon was in the boat. The fish measured 53 inches — respectable, to be sure, but not a trophy by sturgeon standards — and I released it after a couple of photos.
Not a bad way to start the weekend.
Saturday’s forecast called for strong northwest winds in excess of 30 mph and temps in the 40s, and from what we could tell, the prediction was spot-on. Bob Glassmann, a friend of ours from Roseau, Minn., joined us for the opener, and we spent the morning in the Rainy River trying — without success — to avoid the wind.
The water in the river was still turbid from spring runoff, and that didn’t help our walleye-catching odds. The morning walleye tally stood at a measly one when we headed back to the cabin to warm up, regroup and have lunch.
The howling wind began to subside later in the afternoon, and we decided to join the procession of boats heading out of the river and into Four-Mile Bay, the part of Lake of the Woods that picks up where Rainy River leaves off.
It turned out to be a good decision.
Anchored among the fleet of boats parked along the edge of the channel, we dropped our jigs into 10 feet of water and made up for our slow start by setting the hook on walleye after walleye after walleye. With the exception of two fish, all of the walleyes were in the protected “slot,” the 19½- to 28-inch range that requires them to be released. We also released larger walleyes outside the slot — 29½ inches was the biggest — but had no interest in keeping fish that were too big either for the wall or the frying pan.
We didn’t keep count, but the three of us figured we easily had caught and released 30 walleyes by the time we reluctantly pulled anchor — elated but chilled to the bone — shortly before 9 p.m. for the short trip back to the dock.
In all my years of fishing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more impressive average size. The congregation of walleyes, most of them post-spawn females judging by their slim shape, sets the bar ridiculously high for the rest of the season.
The wind continued to fall Saturday night, and Four-Mile Bay by midday Sunday was like glass as the fleet of boats fortunate enough to be anchored there continued to enjoy a walleye opener that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Landing nets weren’t hitting the water quite as frequently as they did the previous day, but fishing still was very good.
Laumb made up for a slow start by landing 29½- and 29-inch walleyes, topping his “personal best” record with both fish.
Leaving the water wasn’t easy when we pulled anchor about 4 p.m. for the trip back to Grand Forks. The “Lucky ’13” opener will be part of our campfire conversations for many years to come.