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Twenty–Third Annual Woman Lake Walleye
Spring Fishing Trip

Woman Lake Chronicles – Part V


Day One – Saturday, May 15, 2004

Hey, a wonderful day today on Woman Lake – you should have been here.
We caught four Walleyes, nine Northern Pike, a Smallmouth Bass, and... other stuff. More on other stuff later. But contrast that with the first day last year, four Northerns, no Walleyes, no Smallmouth, no nothing else. So things are looking up.

But let me set the scene. I drove up to Jerry's cabin this morning, leaving home at 5 am. Everybody else, Jerry, Rick Zieman, Pat Kelly, Jack Sikora, Lee Woll, Bruce Boettcher, had come up the night before. Apparently they had also stayed up late. Although Pat and Rick showed true fishing spirit by being out on the water by 7 am, everybody else was still asleep when I walked into the cabin at 9 am. [Editor's Note: He's just trying to be cute. Boettcher and I were expecting him around 8:30, but he actually arrived around 9:30 - an hour late. We almost went fishing without him!]

Part of the problem with the reluctance to venture out on the lake was the temperature early on. It got down to 29° last night and had only gotten up to 34° when Pat and Rick went out. By the time the rest of our crowd got out on the water, the thermometer had risen to the mid–40's and then up to the mid–60's by mid–afternoon. And even though the wind got to blowing a bit, the weather didn't bite — much.

Frost on the Boat

But you know, the fish did bite. We got those 4 walleye today, our first day, compared to only 7 on the entire trip last year. And Jerry got the big walleye of the day, a 20–incher, which is a thoroughly respectable fish for any year.

Caught a Large Tree Branch

So maybe things are stirring on Woman Lake again after four years of declining catches. Sure hope so. Much as we all love fishing, a bit of catching every once in a while doesn't hurt either.

Speaking of catching. Jerry caught, well, he brought up the biggest "thing" I've ever seen come out of the depths of Woman Lake. The stump weighed nearly 75 lbs – on land. He didn't release it. He brought it back to the cabin, and it's now on the dock. A truly astounding catch considering rod and line strengths.

(By the way. let me comment, for the benefit of the newcomers to the WLR list, that we practice total "Catch and Release" with our Walleyes. We've been doing that for a dozen years or so. They all go back in the water, 100%. Why do we do that, you may ask? Because it's the right thing to do, and we're setting an example. And I'm proud of that.)

And another astounding thing.

Saturday's Prime Rib Dinner We had our usual great dinner, prepared by Chefs Extraordinaire Peters and Boettcher. A 12–pound prime rib roast heavily coated with a garlic/breadcrumb/butter/parmesan/Dijon mustard mixture and roasted slow and easy at 275° until medium rare and succulent, which is bigger than any walleye we've ever caught. Dinner was accompanied by Yorkshire pudding and heavily garlic'd Yukon mashed potatoes. Jerry and Bruce love to cook. The rest of us love to eat. A true "win-win." But wait until you see what they're making tomorrow.

And then finally, before I fall asleep (this stuff is hard to do as midnight approaches after a hard day fishing), the eagerly awaited annual Loon Report. For Cindy Lou:

There are more than two nesting pairs of Loons on Woman Lake this year. One (right) is in the channel from Broadwater Bay to Woman Lake at the same spot the Loon nest two years ago was blown into the lake by the storm. Sure hope it doesn't happen again. Another pair is also in the channel, much closer to the Girl Lake channel.

Loon Nesting in Channel

But are they the same Loon pairs as last year? And finally, the main body of Woman lake has several more male loons vying for territorial rights in the evening.

For me, Loons are one of the truly magic parts of fishing Minnesota. Especially Loon calls at night. My WLR list goes to many people, even internationally. Those of you who have never heard a Loon, well, go find a "Loon CD" and listen to it or visit our " All About Loons". You'll understand.

Saturday, Day 1 Additional Pictures

Tomorrow? Rick Zieman cheerfully predicts a dozen Walleyes. We'll see.


Here are the results for the first day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 0 2 20"
Ozols 0 1 16 1/2"
Kelly 4 0 0
Zieman 1 0 0
Sikora 4 0 0
Woll 0 0 0
Boettcher 0 1 14"

Day Two – Sunday, May 16, 2004

I'm cold and wet. We (Zieman and I) just came in from Woman Lake, from three hours in rain, stormy winds, and plummeting temperatures. We left Pat, Jerry, and Bruce bundled up against the wind and rain, since they just came out, on the lake. [Editor's Note: We were politely asked if we would deliver to Juris his rain gear, which he politely forgot at the cabin even though the forecast was rain. Since they'd been out for several hours, soaked to the skin due to their own negligence, we asked if they were catching any fish. They replied "No…" Tell me again - why are we here?]

Pat Jerry Bruce in Boat Bundled Against Rain

I'm also tired. Technical problems with getting out last night's Report kept me up until way after one am. Then this morning, Rick Zieman started puttering around at six. End of sleeping.

And then I'm hungry. Jerry is moving a bit slow himself, so dinner won't be until who knows when.

And I suppose you expect me to say I'm miserable? Well, no… Forget all that whining. Life doesn't get better than Woman Lake fishing trips.

Okay – today started out with beautiful weather. A bit cool – 45° – but it warmed up nicely, the wind stayed calm, and it was a pleasure to be out fishing on Woman Lake.

As opposed to catching on Woman Lake. We didn't bother the walleyes, and they ignored us. Pat caught a couple of small northerns, and that was it for all of us for the morning and afternoon sessions.

This evening the weather changed. The clouds drifted in, the rain started, and the wind came up. Rotten fishing, but a bit of catching. Rick got a perch and a 20–inch walleye, Pat got a 16–incher, and I got my first northern. So we all came back to the cabin, sat around the kitchen table, and BS'ed, one of the really nice fringe benefits of a fishing trip.

Rick Zieman Holding Perch

We've got six walleye, and I'm sure we'll beat last year's total of seven. But look at the sizes. The fish are averaging over 17–inches, which is significantly bigger than our long term average of 14.5–inches. And we have no small fish at all. That's actually bad news. The small walleyes are not there, and that means the big ones won't be there in coming years. But I won't dwell on that for right now.

Sunday's Ternerloin Dinner Jerry puts the pictures on the web site. He's asleep right now, for good reason. This evenings extravaganza started with a ceasar salad, followed by beef tenderloin marinated in special seasonings, char–broiled to individual taste (mostly medium rare), topped with a savory mushroom gravy and served with parmesan cheese topped garlic bread, left over garlic mashed potatoes or stuffed Portabello Mushrooms (center). Although fishing is hard work, we don't lose weight on these trips.
He'll have them out there probably tomorrow morning. So if you can't get to them right away, try a bit later in the morning.

Tomorrow we're going to have rain and that means the Walleyes will be biting. Won't they? I'll report again tomorrow night.

A quick administrative note – for various reasons I had a lot of trouble last night with my Woman Lake Reports address list. If you didn't get it for Day 1, Saturday, or if you got multiple copies, let me know and I'll fix it. Apologize for the confusion.

Snapshot of Color Weather Radar

Here are the results for the second day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 0 2 20"
Ozols 1 1 16 1/2"
Kelly 6 1 16"
Zieman 1 1 20"
Sikora 4 0 0
Woll 0 0 0
Boettcher 0 1 14 1/2"

Day Three – Monday, May 17, 2004

Red Sunset On Woman Lake

We just got back in off the lake, 10 pm. A pretty, calm night, a flat lake, stars bright in the sky, sunset glow lingering. As Jerry pointed out while we were still fishing, "It's the best time of the day." I agree – we've been out together in the evening a lot of times over the years, and I also always love the stillness and the descending darkness.

But of course, since Jerry caught 3 walleyes and 5 northerns today, he can well wax lyrical. And my own

catch? One modest Northern. But another wonderful day anyway, lyrical or otherwise.

It rained a lot last night, but the temperatures stayed up in the 40's and then warmed nicely during the day. This morning we had clouds and a classic "Walleye Chop" on the water. Somehow, the walleyes mysteriously rematerialized in the lake. Being somewhat pessimistic, I stayed in the cabin to work, while Jerry got 2 of the walleyes and 4 of the northerns and Bruce got 4 walleyes. The rest of us (excluding me) some odds and ends too.

So we already have 14–walleyes, double the number of last year. Maybe they're coming back after all. But still no walleye under 14–inches, and that just plain isn't good for the future.

I got an email today from my friend Tony Welch, who lives in Oregon but who has a very soft spot in his heart for Midwest fishing (especially Muskies).

  • Question 15. Tony writes:
    "Woman Lake is aptly named. Predictably unpredictable. What is it that prevents your gang from going up there in June, when both her temperament and bounty would certainly improve?"

Monday, Day 3 Additional Pictures

I also took a really nice " water reflection" shot this evening, which Jerry transferred to the web site with it's own URL. We made this picture a bigger file size to capture the detail of the branches in the water.

Finally, and this is a new thing for Woman Lake Reports, we have a Quicktime Movie clip of Jerry in the act of catching a northern, which jumps right at the end of the clip. However, it's a 4 MByte file, which shouldn't be a major problem for those of you with DSL or a cable modem, although it will load slowly; but will require approximately 12.5 minutes for a 56k dial–up internet connection, if one wishes to take the time.

Northern at Surface Thrashing at Boatside

Finally, Bruce already left for home today. I guess he couldn't stand the strain of catching all those fish and had to go home to recover. I'll be going home myself tomorrow, even without the excuse of fishing strain.

But we'll get the Reports to you somehow.

Here are the results for the third day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 5 5 20"
Ozols 1 1 16 1/2 "
Kelly 7 2 16 "
Zieman 1 0 20"
Sikora 4 0 0
Woll 1 0 0
Boettcher 5 0 16 "

Day Four – Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Tuesday Evening -

All good things come to an end, don't they? Especially fishing trips. I'm going home tonight, the rest of the crowd tomorrow. Bruce left yesterday, and Jack today. So Jerry will be left by himself, until wife Mary arrives on Friday to reclaim the cabin.

Next year is a long ways away. It'll come, it has for 23 years, but forget that for now. We collected more Fishing Memories today, an interesting day.

The temperature soared, bright sun and no wind, and we sweated and sunburned. The walleyes must have been sunburned too, and sulking in their beds. No walleyes. Indeed, the catching today consisted of three standard size northerns by Pat Kelly, and that was it.

But other things: Lee and I went out in Jerry's boat, and we ended up in the midst of – ready for this – 7,500,000 walleyes. Honest. If you don't believe me, you can check with the DNR. The DNR returns at least 10% (this year they returned 20%) to Woman Lake as part of an agreement with the Child, Girl, Woman Lake Homeowners Association, for "milking" the walleyes as they swim up the Boy river from Woman Lake to spawn. For more information see Jerry's report – DNR Milking.

When we arrived at the entrance to Lantern Bay there was another boat very close to shore. It took a awhile to read the insignia on the side of the boat, but Jerry exclaimed "It's the DNR" and surmized they were stocking Woman Lake with walleye fry. As we watched from our boat, they dumped three bottles of weeks–old fry into the shallows at the entrance to the bay.

But it gets more interesting. There were some seven million walleye fry in the lake for a only a couple of minutes. After that there were maybe 5,000,000, although the exact number would be very tricky to determine. As we were checking out the stocking area – the water was clear – we observed an armada of 3–inch perch descend on the Walleye fry, and let me tell you my friends, they had a feast! The Perch ate the walleyes like we eat Jerry's Fishing Dinners.

Who knows how many fry survive all that. But obviously an awful lot of them don't, and never make it to a catchable size. As I've said many times, our crowd practices 100% walleye (and actually muskie too) catch and release. Seeing something like the massacre of stocked walleyes makes that even more important.

Before the Walleye feast, another new Woman Lake experience for us. As we came out of the channel past Government Point, we stopped and drifted around for a while. We were the only boat out there, the wind was calm, the water flat and clear. And we stumbled into a whole school of Smallmouth Bass, perhaps a couple dozen of them, cruising the rocky shallows of the point.

A Group of Smallmouth BassThey pretty much ignored us, and we could get real close. Some of them were certainly over 15–inches, and maybe even in the 17 or 18–inch range. We've caught smallmouth regularly on our spring trips, by accident, while Lindy Rigging for walleyes. Jerry got one in 1993 at an unbelievable 21 1/2–inches. None of these were that big, but still were impressive.

While we were chasing the bass around, we saw a Rusty Crayfish come crawling out of the rocks into the middle of the school. Dumb. Not a good move. It lasted maybe 10–seconds and then disappeared down the throat of one of the fish. The lake is just crawling with crayfish. I personally think that a major reason we're not catching walleyes is that they're feeding on them too. Why chase our shiners when the crayfish are everywhere? And based on the stupidity of the one we saw, the pickings are easy.

Fish Eye View of Girl Lake Channel In the afternoon we tried walleyes again "feebly" given the sun and calm, and finally just drifted around looking at the lake bottom with Jerry's "Aqua View" underwater camera. It's amazing how much insight a "Fish's Eye" view of the lake will give you. It turns out many of the places we fish are flat, featureless, silty bottom. No self–respecting walleye would ever hang out there. And we've proven that too, even without an underwater camera. But checking out favorite spots is a fun thing – I highly recommend it if you get a chance.

Tuesday, Day 4 Additional Pictures

Here are the results for the fourth day
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 5 8 20"
Ozols 2 1 16 1/2"
Kelly 10 3 20"
Zieman 2 3 20"
Sikora 4 0 -
Woll 1 0 -
Boettcher 0 5 16"

 

Woman Lake Spring Trip 2004 – Wrapup

Sunday, a week later –

Woman Lake has faded into Brigadoon. It is now gone. But it only takes a year, not a century, for Woman Lake to reappear. Does it exist when we're not there? You be the judge.

I drove home to Apple Valley on Tuesday evening to go into work the next morning. Jerry, Lee, Rick, and Pat stayed behind and went out fishing that night. They got six walleyes and two northerns. Pat got the third 20–incher of the trip. Then the rest of the crowd came home on Wednesday. Jerry fished one more time by himself, a walleye and a northern. That was it.

Overall we got 21 walleyes averaging nearly 16–inches, really nice big fish.

Here are the final results for the 2004 opener
Fisherperson # of Northerns # of Walleye Biggest Walleye
Peters 6 9 20"
Ozols 2 1 16 1/2"
Kelly 10 3 20"
Zieman 2 3 20"
Sikora 4 0 -
Woll 0 0 -
Boettcher 0 5 16"

Also, go take a look at Walleye Catching Composite for a couple of charts that Jerry put together showing the number of walleyes and their average length for our fishing trips since 1992. Note the precipitous drop since 1999, our best year. For all those years, it's been the same crowd fishing pretty much the same way, even the same spots. Clearly, something has happened to Woman Lake. If any of you would like to hear my theories on all that, drop me a line. I do have some thoughts, but won't get into it here.

We finally bounced off the bottom this year but I'm not optimistic. We caught two small fish this year – an 8–incher and a 13–incher the last day. But no other small fish. So we're missing at least two year classes.

So things will be slow next year too, until the DNR stockings start to work out. That remains to be seen, when the mists open up and Woman Lake reappears each spring.

Before I sign off until next year, I have to tell you something else, a very painful thing. I've been holding off on this, but it's a part of our Woman Lake Chronicles. Our wonderful friend and faithful Woman Lake fishing companion, Hugh Perry, died unexpectedly last August. The trip wasn't the same without him, and our lives are emptier for his passing.

Fishing Group 2004

We all miss him terribly.

But life moves on. We'll be back next year. With or without Walleyes – they're only a part of our trips, obviously, although if they go to zero we may have to rethink the whole thing. This isn't supposed to be Muskie fishing, after all.

I hope you enjoyed our Woman Lake Reports, and I really look forward to telling you about our adventures again next year.

Juris, for all of our Woman Lake crowd

P.S. ­ In rereading this, it strikes me that my references to "Brigadoon" might be a bit obscure. Go see http://www.durham.net/~neilmac/brigdoon.htm for the story.

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Last Modified: May 24, 2013
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