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A Woman Lake Experience

I venture to say that every serious Lindy Rigging walleye fisherperson has set his/her hook only to bring up nothing but line, or a brief hookset then nothing, or more typically, set the hook on an immovable object (snag). Every walleye fisherperson has his/her story. This is mine.

Picture of Cabin

Every spring a small dedicated core group of us (Rick, Pat, Bruce, Juris and myself) migrate up north for a long weekend in search of the Woman Lake walleye. We prefer Woman Lake walleyes not because they taste any different, but because the cost per pound of walleye caught, while not insignificant, is relatively inexpensive ( we have a cabin on the lake).

It was Sunday, our fourth day fishing, and the catching was slow. Real slow. And no wonder, there was not a cloud to be seen. The temperature was 82 degrees (middle May) and the lake reminded me of a huge mirror. A perfect day for not catching. Most Woman Lake walleye fisherpeople don't bother to get into their boats on sunny calm days; but we were here with nothing else to do. So here we are out on the lake.

Woman lake has just about something for everybody: Northern pike, muskies, crappies, sunfish, perch, both large and smallmouth bass, and , of course, walleyes. Woman is a well structured lake with a large expanse of sandy flats, many of which drop off into 30 or 40 feet of water, abundant rock piles & points that love to swallow Lindy Rigs and blue–green water so clear this time of year that one can see 10 to 12 feet down, which, unfortunately, on a day like today, drives the walleyes into deep water and inactivity.

Boettcher Holding Walleye

We were fishing a rocky point that juts out into the lake some 600 feet before disappearing into 30 feet of water. Earlier in the day, just before noon, near the end of the point in 16 to 20 feet of water the walleyes became active. For nearly 1/2 hour there was action, not fast, but consistent. First one then another — Nice 15,16–inch fish. Finally a 19–inch fish as displayed by Bruce.

Suddenly we saw Rick stand up, his rod bent over [When Rick first joined the group years ago he couldn't spell walleye and the words "catch and release" would get caught in his throat]. For five minutes we watched him struggle, back reeling when the fish ran, then slowly inching him back. Pat was standing ready with the net. As the fish came closer to the boat, Pat took a half ass swipe at the fish as he exclaimed: "It's a very large walleye!". We all thought it was a small northern from the way it was fighting! Pat successfully netted it on the second try. A nice 26–inch beauty. Indeed the largest walleye the group has caught in 14 years at Woman lake or any other lake including Canada. Destined to win the "largest walleye pot". But now for the story.

It was around 3 PM and the heat of the sun was becoming unbearable, particularly since I acquired a sunburn several days earlier, so I was bundled and felt like I was in a sauna.

Picture of Rick's Perch

We had been back trolling around the end of point in 28 to 30 feet of water. Once in a while a small male would be enticed into a strike but, more often than not, it would be a nice sized perch ranging in size from 11 to 13–inches. Perfect for eating as Rick will tell you! As I was removing the hook from one 12–inch perch — surprise surprise — I must have brutally squeezed it's belly because in addition to the minnow, out popped a fingerling walleye that measured a whole five inches! At least we now know what we often suspected happens to too many of the fingerlings stocked in the lake by the Woman Lake Homeowners Association! Perch food!


Since the action was so fast and ferocious, we decided to leave the point and troll toward and up the shoreline in 24 to 28 feet of water – Hoping for anything.

Suddenly I felt a "perch peck".

[Over the years we've divided bites into several categories: The "perch peck" is that nibble, nibble, nibble on your line so characteristic of the way perch grab the minnow,turn it around and swallow head first. Then there is the "glom on". It occurs when the line stops moving – Sort of feels like dead weight. These produce strange results; a clam, a crayfish, green goop,nothing at all and occasionally a lethargic fish to tired to do anything else but hang on. Next is the "wack". Not the nibble of the perch but a definite chomp. You know. The kind where the fish catches itself! Finally you have the "hit and run" or what we call the get in, get out tactic by fish. Sometimes also known as a surgical fish strike!]

Upon feeling the "perch peck" I let go of the line. [I always fish with the bail open and my index finger on the line. Sometimes it's the only way one can feel the "glom on" or "perch peck".] I usually like to give a fish several seconds before setting the hook. Dipping my rod tip toward the fish, testing the line for tautness, I was ready. With one huge backward thrust I bring the rod tip up–up– – "Oh my God!", I exclaimed. "It didn't move!".

Juris asked nonchalantly. "What?" I replied. "The line – – It didn't move!"

"You must be snagged", quipped Juris, which is usually the case!

"No", I replied. "It's a fish and it didn't move!"

For the first several minutes it was a Mexican standoff. I kept constant pressure on the line and the fish didn't move. My rod was bent well over 90°. It wouldn't move and I didn't want to break the line. I doubt the fish knew it had been hooked!

Juris kept barking orders to me. "Don't screw it up by exerting to much pressure. Just look at your rod! Back off!"

"Put your reel on free spool and be ready to backreel!"

"Check your drag!" Check my drag? I thought. It was a little late for that! As I was hanging on to the rod with my right hand and the reel in free spool with my left.

"Watch out for the motor!"

"Don't get hung up in the prop!"

"Don't screw it up!" All the while Bruce didn't say a word – Or at least I don't remember any.

As I was hanging on and Juris was babbling, my thoughts turned to – – – – "I wonder how he's hooked?" As I expected my line to go limp any minute with a "bite–off". It happens so frequently while fishing with 8-LB test line. "Will my knots hold up?" I asked myself. "I really want to see this fish. Please God, let me see it!" I've had big fish on before [as Juris will surely tell you about my mistakes], but never landed one. My legs began to shake, but I quickly put that behind me. Didn't need to fight that to!

Then I began to wonder whether or not this new rod & reel would hold up. It was not my usual rig. A year earlier my brother–in–law had given me a Browning, graphite, SDXS reel for Christmas. Not having a spare rod and completely satisfied with my Cardinal C4, it sat in it's box. Then, last Christmas, he gave me a Berkeley "Series One", 6–foot, medium action rod, so I decided to rig it this spring. Although the rod is not as stiff as my trusty 8–year old Fenwick, it was satisfactory but – – WOW! – – was it bent! What an inaugural! What ever possessed me to use this rod? Sure wish I had my Fenwick! Or better yet my muskie rod.

The fish finally started to move. Very slowly around the rear of the boat. First to the right, then to the left, then back to the right. I vaguely remember Juris saying. "Watch out for the motor!" Over and over again. There was, however, not much I could do. The fish did what it wanted to. I could not gain any ground. It stayed on the bottom and I just hung on.

Other boats

It wasn't too long before my ordeal caught the attention of Lee and Oly, who were in one boat and Pat and Rick in another. We were all fishing the point.

Suddenly the line went limp. Were my worst fears becoming a reality? Had I lost it? I started to reel as fast as I could. My heart was racing; 6 turns, 7 turns, 10 turns on the reel. Finally I felt tension returning to the line. Wow! The fish had made a vertical run right at me!! Never experienced that before! It would do this one more time before it surrendered.


The fish was now straight down at boat side. Slowly I could see the line heading under the boat. "Oh Shit," I thought. This meant the old under the water around the motor maneuver. We raised the motor slightly, as I dipped my rod into the water, to, what I hoped would be a safe distance and began the maneuver while reeling to keep the tension. While it seemed like an eternity I was safely on the other side within seconds. I hoped I wouldn't have to do that again!

all four in boat

By this time the other boats quit fishing and moved closer to us to observe the events. Pat decided he had to be as close to the action as possible so he climbed into my boat to act as commentator. Now we were four!


Out of the corner of my eye I could see the buoy that we had dropped earlier to mark the end of the point. Closer and closer the fish dragged the boat toward the buoy – nearly a 1/4–mile from where I hooked him! Was the fish still on the prowl, I thought, following his normal deep water pattern? Oblivious to the fact I was hanging on? What kind of tactic was this fish contemplating? 50–feet. 40–feet. 25–feet. Ever so slowly toward the buoy.

About this time Juris started to yell at Rick to maneuver his boat close to the buoy and be ready to pull it out of the water. 15 feet. 10 feet. Rick grabbed the buoy, but it would get no closer than 5 feet. Whew! The fish was now headed out to deep water, dragging the boat and I behind, completely helpless.

15 minutes had passed by now. Bruce continued to ready his camera while Pat and Juris – – and the others were talking about – – I ignored them, concentrating on the fish. Did tell all three they better be ready to get out of the way including vacating the boat if necessary!

Sweat was now pouring down my face. As I leaned forward, periodically reacting to the fish, sweat droplets would land on my sunglasses blurring my vision. Damn! Didn't need that. The fish was finally tiring. I could , in small 12 to 20-inch increments bring him up slowly, then reel down fast and do it again 3 or 4 times at first before he would dive back down. By the fifth time , however, I felt I was gaining ground. I was on my sixth "reel down" when a shadow began to emerge from the depths. My heart was beginning to pound at the ominous site. Suddenly Pat jumped up, held up his hands above his head like he was holding a basketball and exclaimed. "It's head is this big!" Then he stretched his arms wide and said excitedly! "Must be 4 feet long!" Suddenly the fish made another run and disappeared. I was astonished by the size of the fish. Clearly the largest fish I ever caught, I thought to myself.

The fish was really tiring now. I was finally bringing him up with much less effort. Closer and closer to the surface. As the fish passed through the "shadowy phase", the magnification effect of the water began to diminish the size of the fish -- But not so much that I was disappointed. Well maybe just a little! Forty eight would have been nice!


Fish on Surface
He was finally at the surface. The Lindy Rig hanging out of the corner of its mouth. Pretty lucky, I thought. No chance for a bite–off.

Fish Heading Down

In an instant he made another lunge toward the bottom. I couldn't backreel fast enough! The handles slipped from my fingers and were spinning against my palm, offering just enough resistance so that the drag was finally being checked! Thanks Juris, I thought to myself. Obviously this fish was not as tired as I had hoped he would be. As I was bringing him up for the, who knows, time, I could hear the other guys worrying about how to land the fish. And who was going to net the fish. It was obvious that my net (used for Woman Lake walleyes) wasn't nearly big enough! And a hand landing was out of the question considering how he was hooked. A quick search of all nets left only one choice: Lee handed his only slightly larger net to Juris. Juris was stammering, "I can't do this! I just can't. What if I screw it up? What then Peters?" But there was really no choice. Someone had to do it!

By now, the others were pressuring me to "horse" it in. After all its been 25 minutes since I hooked him. But I ignore the comments and concentrate on the fish. I started to bring him up again for what I hoped was the last time. Slowly ever so slowly toward the surface. I yelled at Juris! "Get the net ready. I think he's had enough!" He broke the surface about 10–feet from the boat. Slowly I inched him toward the net that Juris was holding according to accepted practice – Both hands a shaking. In one swoop the fish was in the net, however, Juris yelled! "It's too heavy! Grab the front of the net!" So I dutifully grabbed the front of the net with my left hand and guided it in the boat. Didn't want to lose it now!

Netting The Fish
Netting The Fish Is Always Risky Business

There he was in all his splendor lying on the bottom of my boat. I could hardly contain myself. But if the fish thought it was tired, well I had to sit down for few minutes just looking at the fish, savoring the battle that I had won!


Juris woke me from my tired stupor, suggesting that we measure it and get it back into the water as soon as possible. He was right, you know, for there was no question that it was going to be released – To fight another day.

The statistics about this fish were pretty amazing at least for me. He battled for over 30–minutes and he dragged the boat well over a 1/2–mile from where he was hooked. He was 38 1/2–inches long and based on accepted charts for large bellied fish weighed 17–LB (now its my fish and I can make it what I want!). All on an 8–LB test Lindy Rig.

The fish although large was not my largest fish, but definitely one of the most cherished for the tremendous battle he gave me!



Fish Splashing His Way To Freedom

It was nice to see him splash his way to freedom!




Check Out The Overall All Time Northern Fishing Records?
Note:
The largest northern was "horsed in" on a muskie rod in less than 2 minutes

Epilog


On our annual 1996 spring trip to Woman Lake, the Berkeley "Series One", 6-foot medium action rod, with which I was concerned about while catching this fish, went belly up. Or should I say broke in two. It was interesting though, how little it took to break it. Setting the hook on a small, what turned out to be, perch!!! I hope someone from Berkeley Manufacturing reads this!
What will I tell my brother-in-law?
Buy me another?

Broken Berkly Rod
NEVER AGAIN!



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Date Created: June 12, 2000
Last Modified: April 1, 2004
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