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Twenty–Second Annual Woman Lake Walleye
Spring Fishing Trip

Woman Lake Chronicles – Part IV


Day One – Saturday, May 18, 2003

Okay – the trip is on. As I write this it's 10:45 Saturday night, Jerry is concocting one of his famous dinners – sautéed sea scallops and beef tenderloin, preceded by shrimp cocktail. And we're all already tired from a long hard, and I'm sad to say, pretty much mediocre day of fishing. Those of you on the list last year might remember that we had a rotten trip then as far as walleyes went – only 14 caught, compared to other years when we got hundred or more. This year it's looking grim too. We only got one so far.

Let me back up to set the stage. Our buddy Peter Hunt, here from Texas, and I got to Jerry's cabin at around 5 pm. Lee Woll and Jack Sikora, who specialize in chasing Northern Pike have been here since Thursday night. Pat Kelly also came in earlier today.

So Jack and Lee have been out after the Lantern Bay Northerns the last couple of days, throwing their usual Redeye Wigglers, and have got a dozen, biggest at 23–inches. Not impressive. Jerry and Pat went out walleye fishing this afternoon, and Pat actually caught one, at 15–inches. Then after we got here, I went out with them until dark, and no walleyes. Not a good omen. I don't think they're biting. The water temperature wasn't bad either, at around 57 or 58 degrees, compared to ten degrees colder last year. So does the lake have walleyes anymore?

Here's what it does have: Pat also caught a 24–inch Dogfish. We seem to get one every two or three years, and now one already? Furthermore – and this is a genuine first in our 22 years of these trips – there's a 3–foot Eelpout apparently making a spawning nest in the weeds right by the dock. One of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. Is it ethical to try to catch a spawning Eelpout?

Editors Sidelight Button

Picture of an Eelpout

Is This A Dogfish?
Picture of a Bowfin

Is This An Eelpout?

[Editor's Note: Actually it wasn't a spawning female but rather the male whose job it is to insure that the eggs hatch. Upon hatching, the fry form a "live ball", the male them eats them, and he goes on his merry way.]

And other stuff – the outboard motor on Jerry's Lund Tyee is really flaky, with the starter motor not engaging without a bunch of diddling with it. If you don't get a report some day this week, it'll probably be because the motor has died, and we're out floating around helplessly in the middle of the lake. Note that boat problems are sacred tradition, and we're on track this year.

The eagerly awaited Loon Report (Cindy – this is for you): There's at least one Loon pair nesting in the channel to Woman– Lake. We'll see if there's more out there. You might recall that two years ago the Loon nest that had been in one particular spot got destroyed in a wind storm, so it's nice to see the Loons back. When we were out fishing tonight, the Loons on the lake were calling to each other too. That's one of my very favorite parts of our fishing trips – the Loon calls in the night. Nesting Loon

Saturday's Pictures

Here are the results for this first day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 1 0 0
Ozols 1 0 0
Kelly 0 1 15"
Woll 7 0 0
Sikora 6 0 0
Hunt 2 0 0

I didn't have much of a chance to take many today, we'll have more tomorrow.

I did have one question already, from Tony Welch in Oregon, a newcomer to the list. Tony asks:

  • Question 13. From whence the name "Woman Lake"
  • Answer 13 Button

 



Day Two – Sunday, May 19, 2003

Greetings on Day Two!

Second whitecap on the right and straight on "til morning. That's where the Walleyes are this year – Neverland. Where they are not is in Woman Lake. Or let's be more specific, they are not where we are on the lake.

A beautiful fishing day today – cloudy, moderate to light wind, temperature in the mid 70's, no weather changes. If you were a normal Walleye on a normal year you would've been jumping in the boat. But they didn't and we didn't get any. A handful of smallish Northerns, some Perch. And then Peter Hunt cast various small crankbaits and assorted bass lures from the dock, and got three bass and three crappies. So a multi–species day, but no walleyes, (and no Dogfish and no Muskies for that matter).

We've kicked around why the walleye fishing (actually catching) has been so rotten last year and this year. Last year we blamed the weather. Not this year – the fishing weather is great. Is the lake getting fished out? Well.... In 1999 we got 114 walleyes, 62 in 2000, 40 in 2001, and then 14 last year. A clear trend.

But something else – over the last few years the crayfish population on the lake has also exploded. We actually bring them up hanging on to our shiner minnows, and the bottom of the lake seemed to be carpeted with them when we played around with the underwater TV camera last year. So that might be part of it too – they're feasting on the crayfish and ignoring our shiner minnow offerings.

The excitement for the day? Well, Pat Kelly snagged and lost three "snagless" sinkers, all within the space of 20 minutes. Peter Hunt snagged and recovered a sunken, moss–covered fishing pole in 20 feet of water. (He used that rod to cast from the dock and catch the bass and crappies – an elegant move.) And Hugh Perry arrived tonight. That pretty much covers it.

Oh – and I should mention: After our morning outing, we all came back in to the cabin and after lunch I believe every single one of us took an hour or two nap. Although that may not qualify as excitement in everybody's book, it sure felt good. Life isn't bad on a fishing trip, even when the walleyes have gone poof.

Sunday's Pictures

Here are the results for the second day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 3 0 0
Ozols 4 0 0
Kelly 2 1 15"
Woll 9 0 0
Sikora 11 0 0
Hunt 6 0 0

Be sure to pay attention to the last one – Peter Hunt did a beautiful job of "colorizing" a photograph taken yesterday.

And then the "FAQ" department: My friend Bernie Barringer poses this follow-up question in response to my answer yesterday about the origins of the name "Woman Lake."

  • Question 14. Okay hotshot, how do you explain Baby Lake, Child Lake, Man Lake, Girl Lake, Little Girl Lake, Kid Lake, and a few other family member's Lakes? I have a theory, but we'll see what you come up with first...

 

 



Day Three – Monday, May 20, 2003

Hey – we actually caught a small handful of fish today. (Those of you familiar with my reports know that whenever I say "we" I always mean the other guys.) In any case, some fish actually crossed the transom of our boats instead of just swimming around under them, and that certainly was a change.

To back up for a bit, the weather also took a serious change today. Our speculation is that somehow the tilt of the earth changed, or something, because we're back into winter. The temperature the last couple of days has been in the 70's, and today it dropped to 45°, with frost warnings for tonight. A major front came through, and normally that shuts the fish down, but since they were already at rock bottom they had to come up.

We went out this morning in rain and wind and clouds and misery. We froze. We came in for several hours, during which time the rain beat against the cabin windows and the wind howled. We mostly slept. And then the weather moderated just a bit, the wind dropped from 50 to 30 mph, and Jerry decided we should go out again. Lee and Jack, showing impeccable wisdom, stayed behind. But Jerry somehow got the rest of us out there for a couple of hours of fishing, and a modest amount of catching took place.

Pat Kelly got a 17 1/2–inch Smallmouth Bass, pre–spawn, with a big fat belly full of eggs. Realize that bass season isn't open, and that we're (honestly!) not fishing for them. But the Smallies do bite on our shiner minnows as we fish for Walleyes, and so every year we get one or two.

And then Jerry got a Northern, Hugh got a Northern, three or four Perch got snagged, and finally – can you believe it? – Peter Hunt actually caught a Walleye! Now you probably think it was the same Walleye that Pat caught on Friday, but that one was 15–inch and this was 16–inch, so we now believe there are at least two Walleyes in the lake.

So two Walleyes for us, but I have other news too. It turns out one of my e-Mail friends, Don Krieger from the Twin Cities, was also here on Woman Lake last weekend. His party did way better than our feeble success. I've got a copy of his e-Mail posted and it makes for very interesting reading. We're going to follow his advice, and we'll see if that helps our luck. [Editor's Note: Yeah right! I didn't see any nightcrawlers, worms, leeches, snakes or anything that resembled the aforementioned in my boat!]

I also got an e-Mail from Mark Sewald, one of my Muskie Inc friends, and a superb fisherman. He has some insights on what the overabundance of forage crayfish may do to the walleye bite. Bob Collins from Detroit Lakes also suggested that we try trolling with crayfish colored crankbaits, which I think is also something we'll try. [Editor's Note: Again I say. Yeah right! Do you know what I think he really means by "I think - - we'll try"? Thank you for your advice, but we'll do what we've always done and not catch any fish.]

And then one more e-Mail from Rachel Salter, a colleague of mine from Hastings, England. Rachel took pity on Jerry and the grief he took for that "Crunchy Hot Dog" picture yesterday and offered to join us as resident cook. She wants to make classic British fare for us to take some of the pressure off Jerry's cooking. Don't we wish.... [Editor's Note: We'll you damn better get serious about this offer. I'm getting tried of breaking my back every day feeding you'all. I need a break. If Rachel can't come, Why don't you hire Emeril Lagasse?]

Rick and Peter just came back. They apparently did not sink, after all. And Rick even caught a walleye, can you believe. Incredible how many stupid fish are out there. Their numbers are apparently exceeded only by stupid fishermen.

Stats as of Monday, after Zieman and Hunt got back in:

Monday's Pictures

Here are the results for the third day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 4 0 0
Ozols 4 0 0
Kelly 2 1 15"
Woll 9 0 0
Sikora 11 0 0
Hunt 6 1 16"
Perry 1 0 0

 

Finally, Rick Zieman arrived tonight, and we'll see if he can do some catching tomorrow.

 


Day Four – Tuesday, May 21, 2003

The sun is setting. The wind of the afternoon drifted off into the stillness of evening an hour ago, and the flat waters of Woman Lake mirror the sunset colors like a Turner painting. Only one other boat is here a few hundred yards away, fishing Government Point. The sound of the two fishermen's voices carries across the water so we can hear and understand every word they say. They haven't caught anything either, and they're tired, hungry, and getting cold.

So are we, but we want to stay longer, hoping for that one last chance at a Walleye. And we want to stay to listen to the voices of the Loons, which also carry across the still waters for a mile or more. Loon calls are part of the magic of our Spring trips. We don't get Loons in the Cities, and we don't get Loons in the long Minnesota Winter. We only get Loons on Woman Lake in the spring.

So we stay and listen to the Loon voices, but unlike the fishermen's, we don't understand them. Which is too bad. Can't you just imagine one Loon saying to his buddy, "See those clowns over there in that boat? Been here four days, froze their tails off, broke their motor, can't catch a fish – you couldn't pay me to do what they're doin'....."

Well, you don't have to pay me. Where else would I rather be?

I'm sitting here on Jerry's boat, writing this on my Mac laptop, as Zieman and Peters cogitate on giving up for the day or stretching out the fishing until after dark. I've given up, my pole put away, the one modest 24–inches Northern I caught earlier in the day long since released and swimming around somewhere in the depths. (I wonder what he's saying to his buddies?)

Speaking of buddies, the rest of our crowd who had to leave this morning for various reasons – Hugh, Jack, Lee, Pat, Peter – I wonder what they're doing right now? You know they want to be with us. Well, Jerry and Rick (who came in last night) and I are here, and we've still got until Friday. And those three days still seem like an eternity right now.

But I know how it happens. The days will disappear quickly in a blur. And then clean up the cabin, the four hours south on 371 and 94 and home, and back to that paying job, and business e-Mails, and customer phone calls, and Cedar Avenue traffic jams and bills to pay, and....

But right now I've got that Turner sunset and the Loon calls, warmer weather coming, a promise of Walleyes tomorrow. And I couldn't be happier.

Dinner report:

Tuesday's Pictures

Here are the results for the fourth day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 4 0 0
Ozols 4 0 0
Kelly 2 1 15"
Woll 9 0 0
Sikora 11 0 0
Hunt 6 1 16"
Perry 1 0 0

 


Day Five - Wednesday, May 22, 2003

A sense of desperation crept in toward the end of Bill Gardner's classic Muskie book, "Time on the Water," as the Wisconsin fishing season came to an end and Bill still hadn't caught his "Moby Muskie" after a full year of chasing it.

I understand. Walleye desperation time is upon us too, as our 2003 trip is nearing end.

Actually, a very small ray of hope shone on us today. Rick and Jerry went out this morning for a couple of hours. I stayed behind in the cabin for some other important things, mostly dealing with catching up on sleep. My nap was interrupted by Rick on the cell phone with the astounding news that he had just caught an 18–inch walleye. I allowed as that was indeed a major development. I went back to sleep. I didn't get any more phone calls.

All three of us went out later in the afternoon under pretty "cold front" conditions of blue skies, puffy clouds, and a brisk wind. The fish apparently were asleep, but we did see a loon doing crazy things – check out the photo gallery for Wednesday's Pictures

Then during our evening outing, the fish must have felt a bit of nostalgia for the good old days of the Woman Lake "Evening Bite." Well, at least some of the fish. We (this time it includes me) got 10 Northerns from 18 to 25 inches, a half dozen Perch, one Rock Bass, and, can you believe it, I actually caught a 10 1/2–inch and a 13 1/2–inch Walleye. At first I didn't recognize what I had at the end of my line, it had been so long since I'd seen a Walleye, but Jerry and Rick were kind enough to clear up the matter.

So maybe the picture isn't as grim as I've been painting? We'll see tomorrow. But that's the last day for this year, the end of the trip. We're not going to get the 14 Walleyes we got last year, and it'll be a far, far cry from past years when we got up to a hundred or more.

Jerry thinks that the Walleye stocking by the Lake Association has been way down the last three or four years, and that along with the crayfish explosion may explain it. An alternative explanation is that as we've all gotten older we've simply gotten to be more incompetent in our fishing skills. Or maybe the fish are smarter? Or our luck ran out? Classically, of course, there are a million excuses for not catching fish. And we may have to work a bit at inventing some new ones.

Wednesday's Pictures

Here are the results for the fifth day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 12 0 0
Ozols 11 2 13.5"
Kelly 2 1 15"
Woll 9 0 0
Sikora 11 0 0
Hunt 6 1 16"
Perry 1 0 0
Zieman 2 2 22"

By the way, you may have noticed that I talk exclusively in terms of "inches" when describing fish. I never talk about weight in pounds. That's because our crowd is total "catch and release," and has been for over a decade: Walleyes and Northerns and everything. We measure and record the lengths of fish, but we don't keep them and don't weigh them. Long story behind all that, and we actually did keep one "symbolic" walleye back in the last millennium. I'll write a tale about that one someday (it was supposed to be Walleye number 1000 but was probably number 997), and we'll continue to talk "inches and not pounds."

Speaking of pounds, and not sure if this is a weight reduction thing, but Jerry had Rick and me ate leftovers tonight. First time ever he didn't spend hours preparing one of his standard fabulous dinners. So the Walleyes aren't biting and Peters isn't cooking? Funny times.

Katie Wearing Her Winter Coat
Katie's Winter Coat

The FAQ's department: I've had several people e-Mail me and ask about the dog in the front of our "Group" picture yesterday. The pooch is Jerry's dog "Katie," a Kerry Blue Terrier and a nice friendly dog.

I've had more comments about my "Crunchy Hot Dogs" picture and now about Katie than any of the other great shots that I've posted. burn't and Crispy hot Dogs Things (including the fishing) seem to be going to the dogs. Finally, for those interested in the technical aspects of how we generate and publish these Woman Lake Reports, I've got a lengthy discussion posted at: Technicalities.

YOU might find it rewarding to read that too. Last day tomorrow....


Woman Lake Spring Trip 2003 - Wrapup

We just came in from the lake a bit ago, at 9:30 pm. The temperature was 49.6 degrees on the cabin's digital thermometer, and the wind was blowing. The Walleyes, which are trained to live by the rules, recognized that they were not authorized to bite under such conditions. They did not. The Perch are a bit more lax in these matters, and we got a few. No Northerns tonight either. Earlier today Rick got a 10–inch Walleye.

And that's it; Woman Lake is over for the year. I'm going home tomorrow morning. I'm going to stop by the Bridge Tavern in Crosby, a tradition now, for their fabulous "Bridgeburger," then down past Mille Lacs, and into the Twin Cities and then my Apple Valley home. And I'm ready for that too, a chance to get a rest after all this hard, dirty work of fishing.

Our crowd got seven Walleyes, worst ever. I got two and Jerry was skunked, the first time in our 22 years. I talked to one of my friends who also has a cabin on the lake and fished it last week. Skunk too. Something has changed in the last four years. I'm going to try to see if the DNR has any insight, and I'll report that to you in a 2003 wrapup.

I once read a bit of wisdom to the following effect: There's an infinite difference between fishing a lake that has one fish in it compared to fishing a lake that has no fish in it.

As long as Woman Lake has one Walleye, we'll be back. As you no doubt could tell from these reports, the annual trip is one of the highlights of the year for our crowd, and we'll do it again next year.

Here are the final results for the 2003 opener
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 15 0 0
Ozols 11 2 13.5"
Kelly 2 1 15"
Woll 9 0 0
Sikora 11 0 0
Hunt 6 1 16"
Perry 1 0 0
Zieman 2 3 22"

 

The 57 Northerns actually is a respectable total for us, comparing well with other years. And we got modest numbers of Perch too, so those fish were biting. It's just the Walleyes were dead. Like I said, I'll research it.

The Final Pictures

Pay particular attention to the photo on the right – Jerry wanted to prove that he still had it in him as a cook, even though he can no longer catch Walleyes. A superb dinner – one of his best ever, and a great way to finish the week. And that's it. So, until next year, when the warm winds will blow and the fish will bite? –

Beautiful Boneless Rare Prime Rib

READ ABOUT ANOTHER SPRING TRIP?

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Date Created: December 18, 2003
Last Modified: May 24, 2013
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