About a day and a half into his recent trip to Lake Winnipeg, Chad Maloy says he could have summed up the fishing in two words:
“We’d been fishing two days, and no one’s caught a good one,” Maloy said, referring to the big “greenback” walleyes for which Lake Winnipeg is renowned. “The best one we’ve caught is like 20-21 inches.”
But as happens sometimes when fishing trips are at their lowpoint, famine turned to feast on Saturday, Feb. 29, when Maloy got a message from a buddy also on the big lake telling him to move shallower.
So, Maloy, of Fargo, moved from a spot with 16 feet of water under 4 feet of ice to an area closer to shore near the mouth of the Red River with 8 feet of water under 4 feet of ice.
As Maloy tells the story, he’d been catching a few “OK” walleyes after moving shallower -- nice eater-size fish -- when he saw a large blip on his Vexilar, the electronics he was using to mark fish below him. Using a lipless crankbait custom-painted a light pink with darker pink stripes, Maloy gave the lure a couple of twitches in hopes of enticing a strike.
“Pink was kind of a hot color,” Maloy said. “All of a sudden, I see a blip on my Vexilar, I’m like, ‘ooh,’ then all of a sudden, ‘wham!’ ”
Walleye anglers live for “ooh” and “wham.” Especially on Lake Winnipeg, where every hookset can mean a walleye of 10 pounds or more.
“You know it’s a good one, once you get them turned in the hole, and all of a sudden the water in the hole drops like 5 inches and then comes up 5 inches because the volume of that fish takes up the entire space of the hole,” Maloy said. “I got him up the hole, and I’m like, ‘This is awesome. Finally, I get a good one, and I can get some good pictures.’ ”
The walleye measured 28 inches -- large enough to qualify for Manitoba’s popular Master Angler program -- and Maloy called a buddy fishing nearby to snap a couple of photos.
In the meantime, he unhooked the walleye and set her back in the hole tail-first.
“If we’re going to take pictures, we put them in the hole backwards, tail-first, because they’re not going to swim away, and that way it kind of acts like a livewell,” Maloy said.
He set the phone down and looked over at the Vexilar again, only to see another large blip.
“I grab the other rod, and I had the same lure on that,” Maloy said. “I gave it a couple of twitches.”
You know the rest … “ooh” and “wham.”
That walleye measured 27¾ inches.
Maloy said he was literally jumping up and down over the double whoppers he’d just landed when his buddy pulled up.
“I’m jumping up and down, and he goes, ‘Did you miss it?’ and I said, ‘No, I got another one,’ ” Maloy said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Or, in this case, double the fun.
“The one thing I always enjoy sharing with people is that you need to always be prepared to catch that fish of a lifetime,” Maloy said. “If you don't’ take the time and make sure you have sharp hooks, tie good knots, have good equipment, have a good rod and have a good reel, you may not get a chance to catch that fish of a lifetime.”
Maloy, who’s been fishing Lake Winnipeg for the past 15 years or so, says eater-size walleyes don’t seem to be hard to find this winter on the big lake, based on his experience and the conversations he’s had with area guides, but the true trophies aren’t as abundant as they once were.
Commercial fishing likely is driving that trend.
“If you’re not marking fish and not catching, you need to move more often this year,” Maloy said. “There aren’t as many big fish anymore because of the netting, but some of the big fish are bigger than ever. I heard of a guy catching a 32- and a 33-(incher).
“It’s still a great opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime.”
After a slow start -- at least for larger walleyes -- Maloy says he finished the weekend with six walleyes over 26 inches.
“The moral of the story is don’t give up -- never give up,” Maloy said. “It’s happened so many times. You think, ‘This is just terrible, and I’m going to give up.’
“The next fish could be the fish of a lifetime. Be prepared and keep trying.”
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.