September 17, 2014

Elyria
Mostly clear
49°F
test

Year of the Walleye

Year of the Walleye

 

There’s a light chop on the Lake this afternoon but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I’m trying to look cool while drinking a diet Coke although I’m struggling a little to get the can to hit my mouth. The Captain cuts the engine and we heave forward for a second and then it smooths out considerably.  In a moment there is little more sway than if I were sitting on my front porch swing.

My friend and I are engaged in a deep but hypothetical discussion on States’ rights and the structure of the United States within the confines of the Constitution. Neither of us have gone to law school (he’s an electrical engineer) and for that matter neither of us are U.S. Senators in the year 1861 so I have to admit, it’s a pretty bizarre conversation. I think we just do this kind of thing to put each other through the mental paces, the way we used to do many years ago when we were college roommates. We’re on a fishing charter somewhere off of the sand bar, an annual “birthday gift” my buddy gives himself even though his birthday is in January. The moral of this story is if you need an excuse to go fishing, make one.

As pressing as the Tenth Amendment seems right now, we are interrupted by the piercing exclamations of the Captain. “Roof rod! Roof Rod!” The mate comes scrambling and stumbling over deck chairs and a cooler climbing up to get the Ugly Stick rod mounted above us as it does its thing, bent over sharply but never breaking. I take a half step to the side and smile while I watch him grab the rod and pull it down. He thrusts the pole into my hands like a hot potato and I couldn’t be more shocked if he had handed me a rattlesnake. In an instant I go from amused spectator to quarterback on game day.

Instinctively I pull up to set the hook, but that’s a pointless gesture seeing how this hog has already pulled the hook on through and is headed for Davy Jones’ locker. I pull in the drag with my thumb while my right hand turns the crank one, two turns. “Fish on!” somebody is shouting but all I can hear is the line stripping off the reel as the voice in my head (which for some unknown reason is Jackie Mason) screams, “What are you doing, bringing the drag in? What do you want, to snap the line? Let it out, for Pete’s sake, let it out!”

With all this commotion in my hands and in my head, I become aware that at this moment, everyone else on the boat is doing the exact same thing and we have hit the walleye bonanza! I’ve never seen them hit like this all around. Somebody pinch me!

They say there’s nothing happier than an airplane full of tourists heading to Las Vegas. Whoever said that hasn’t been on a Lake Erie Walleye Charter lately! In 1983 the Walleye really bit. Charter captains recognized how special it was while it was happening, and they knew it would likely never happen again. Well, it happened. Thirty years later we are having a Walleye run they’ll talk about for years to come. 2013 is the Year of the Walleye.

You might wonder what makes the catch better this year than any other year.  The spawn has most to do with it and depending on weather, the success of spawning can vary greatly. Water temperatures that rise too quickly cause the Walleyes’ eggs to hatch prematurely. By the same measure a long period of cool weather in the spring can delay or impair hatching.  As fry Walleye feed on microcrustaceons, a cold snap after the hatch can suppress their numbers so walleye starve. Depending on the strength of the hatch and their survival rate, the walleye catch can very up to 100 fold year to year, according to the department of natural resource. And just as quickly as they rise, so may they vanish, with one walleye year-class dominating, while fish a year younger or older may be scarce.

After the spring months when the water warms, walleye move to feeding areas while species like panfish, trout and bass usually prefer cooler waters. After spawning, their bodies are depleted and Walleye want to do nothing more than gorge themselves. During the late summer months they’ll go deep into cool dark waters and spend less time feeding. So, if you’re crazy about walleye, and I mean lots of big, big walleye, you need to get yourself out on the lake right now. Get outdoors!