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BRAD DOKKEN: Revisiting the walleye opener

The anchor hit the water with a splash, and we were bouncing ¾-ounce jigs tipped with  frozen shiners off the bottom of the lake seconds later.

In that moment, all was right with the world, and the arrival of spring was made official.

Minnesota Walleye Opener 2014 will go down as a keeper for many reasons, not the least of which was the weather. Clouds and wind and rain and bone-chilling cold were conspicuous by their absence.

Instead, the throng of boats that joined us in Four-Mile Bay of Lake of the Woods — I guessed 300 — basked in the collective warmth of an outdoors happening that only comes along once a year.

Normally, that happening is an exercise in misery that may or may not be rewarded with a walleye at the end of the line.

This year, both the weather and the walleyes cooperated.

Last Saturday, Lake of the Woods was covered with ice less than a mile to the north, beyond Pine Island, but from our vantage point, open water dominated the horizon and barely a ripple interrupted the glass-calm surface.

The sound of water softly lapping against the hull was music to the ears.

There’s something hypnotic about the sound, I think, perhaps because it conjures up so many memories of other days on the water, time spent with friends and family.

Good memories.

It’s the sound of relaxing.

That was especially true last Saturday because of what it signaled: the beginning of another open-water fishing season after a winter that far outlasted its welcome.

Throwing the anchor and dropping a jig into open water symbolically closed the book on winter for good.

Slump and rally

I was on the clock for the first few hours of opening day, taking photos and gathering material for a story that ran in the next day’s paper. Three of us had landed more than a half-dozen walleyes up to 28 inches when we went back to the cabin for an early afternoon lunch break so I could write my story and email photos.

The crowds had thinned, but only slightly, when we got back on the water a couple of hours later.

The “Black Cloud,” as we call it in my circle of fishing friends, descended almost immediately, and I spent the next two hours either missing fish after setting the hook — or watching my fishing partners catch walleye after walleye after walleye.

Everyone who fishes knows about the Black Cloud. Its causes are uncertain but its impact on the “fun meter” is indisputable.

And late last Saturday afternoon, my fun meter definitely was waning.

Then, for no reason that I can explain, my luck began to turn. I didn’t do anything drastically different, aside from moving from the comfort of my seat at the bow of the boat to a different seat behind the steering wheel.

My line basically was in the same place it had been before, but the walleyes began to find my jig and shiner minnow to their liking again.

I even managed to land the biggest walleye of the day, which stretched the measuring board at 29 inches.

That definitely got the fun meter moving back in the right direction.

We didn’t keep count, but the three of us estimated we caught and released about 40 walleyes last Saturday, a respectable opening-day tally any way you count it.

Up the Rainy

Sunday, we decided to escape the worst of the crowds and headed a few miles up the Rainy River. Because of the late spring, the Rainy still was full of spawning-run walleyes that migrate upriver from Lake of the Woods, and the wait between bites wasn’t long.

Oddly enough, I had the hot rod last Sunday, perched in the exact same spot where I’d struggled to catch a fish the previous afternoon and released four walleyes from 28 inches to 30 inches, among others. There were four of us in the boat, and the day’s tally was probably 50 fish. Most were in the 19½- to 28-inch protected slot in effect on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River and too big to keep, but we didn’t have any trouble catching walleyes for an evening fish fry, either.

The weather wasn’t quite as nice as opening day, but the wind didn’t howl and the rain didn’t fall so no one was complaining.

All too often, it seems, the weather on a fishing trip is cruddy until it’s time to load the boat and head for home. Last weekend was just the opposite, and the rain held off until Monday afternoon, when we had to call it a weekend anyway.

The open water fishing season had gotten off to a fine start.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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