Like so many fishing families, the scribbler and daughter Melissa got to share boat time in the tradition of a North Woods opening weekend.
Like so many fishing families, the scribbler and daughter Melissa got to share boat time in the tradition of a North Woods opening weekend.
WE FIRED our first jig and minnow cast of the new fishing season just after dawn last Saturday morning, a father and daughter team elated to be sharing boat space once again.

Daughter Melissa made the trek home in hopes of getting in some hook-setting action, and this year, we were just thankful that the ice was out in time for us to experience open water.

We targeted a rocky shoreline known for its spawning habitat, thinking water temperatures were still so dismal after a late ice-out that the walleyes might still be hanging shallow.

And wouldn’t you know it that we announced to one another, almost at the same time, that our baits had been struck on that first cast of the season. Couldn’t be, I thought, because we’ve gone years when it took hours to catch a walleye on a brisk opening morning.

But there we were together, patiently “dragging” a couple of walleyes toward the boat to make sure they had taken the bait deep enough for a good hookset. She did the windmill set first and I followed shortly after, and we had a double going.

The miracle of this particular event was that for the first time either one of us could remember, I caught the larger of the two walleyes, a 16-incher. Finally, the guide was not out-fished from the opening gate (regardless of how bad I got outfished later).

Her fish, obviously a male, was squirting white milt all over the boat. Mine failed in that regard, so we were immediately thinking spawned-out female.

That double was the highlight of our first hours of the season, for the shallow-water bite went downhill quickly when the sun appeared. There were small males around, mostly 11-inchers, but nothing worthy of a decent fight or a fillet knife.

It took several hours to locate more keeper-sized walleyes, after we got into 20 feet of water and started fishing a break. The mid-morning bite was solid and numerous walleyes hit our jigs.

The best location we found for action and size involved a crib or brush pile that was sitting on a steep break in 15 feet of water. We were anchored deeper in 20 feet and the walleyes were just inside our location, on the break.

It’s been a couple of years since my daughter made it back for opener, so we were serious about catching up on the tradition of chasing down walleyes.

Like me, she’ll never be one of those circle-hook addicts who love to reel and not worry about setting the hook. She stands up in the boat, takes up slack and delivers a solid punch.

The fishing pressure was decent on the Three Lakes side of the 28-lake chain, with numerous boats squeezing into open spots near lake channels where the current was holding walleyes.

It seems we were constantly fishing for something, even looking for crappies in the peak temperatures of a sunny opener when the mercury topped 65 degrees. It was a smorgasbord of sorts, for we caught walleyes, perch, sunfish, crappies and rock bass.

Well, to be perfectly correct, we did not “catch” a large sunfish on a jig and minnow combination. It was foul-hooked in the dorsal fin when it arrived on the surface.

There were no long breaks from fishing for this die-hard duo, and we fished right to dusk near a bridge and lake channel that was holding lots of mostly throw-back male walleyes. We were in it for the hook-setting and the aggressive male walleyes did not disappoint us.

Sometimes this sport we call fishing is all about who we’re sharing boat space with, more than the catching. We had made plans for the opener months in advance, and it could not have come soon enough with all the snow we endured over winter.

Just the anticipation of the initial alarm, packing the boat, getting bait, grabbing coffee and gearing up for a day on the water was enough to get the blood pumping.

It was an impressive wildlife show on the water as well, for we were entertained by trumpeter swans, Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards, eagles, ospreys, pileated woodpeckers and a host of other species.

There’s great challenge in finding walleyes, especially legal-sized fish that are worthy of a fillet knife. Studies by the Department of Natural Resources have shown that it can take up to eight hours for the typical angler to catch one legal-sized walleye.

As openers go, it was generally slow fishing. That’s because the walleyes had just spawned out on many lakes and had moved to deeper water to recover. That makes finding fish difficult, and it makes the bite fairly passive.

Yet to come is the peak of the walleye bite, the post-spawn period when they return to shallow water, wood and weeds to feed aggressively.

That’s when working a jig and minnow is truly fun, for you can feel the tap of a walleye bite in the palm of your rod hand. And sometimes, they hit so hard you can feel it on slack line.

But for now, I’m just wearing a big smile after spending a day and a half in a boat with my daughter. Those are special moments that don’t happen enough in this fast-paced society.

It’s always heartwarming to see the volume of family and friends who share boat space on these weekends, even when the kids are sleeping in front of the boat because of an early alarm and a lot of fresh air.

It’s a blessed existence when your adult daughter returns for a weekend of serious fishing. Praise the Lord for that one.