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Woman Lake Walleyes

Let me tell you about Woman Lake (aerial view). I've heard it's one of the ten most beautiful lakes in the world. I don't know about that. For sure, the wilderness lakes of Ontario – Lake of the Woods, Eagle, Rowan, Lac Seul, the others – beat it soundly. But in the spring of the year, during our annual walleye trip, it's a thing of beauty. Aerial View of Woman Lake

The lake, a couple of miles across, covers some 5,000 acres. Broadwater Bay, a lake itself, connects to Woman by a channel going past Government Point. Beyond Broadwater, another channel leads to Girl Lake and the town of Longville, the home of those rotten shiners.

Woman Lake's one island – Horseshoe Island, named for its distinctive shape – lies a half–mile south of Government Point. Fishy structure is common, with reefs, bars, underwater "fingers," etc. everywhere. Thankfully, it doesn't have any propeller–hungry rocks not marked – we've never banged up a propeller on the lake.

In the spring of the year, the clear water lets you see the lake's abundant rocks and gravel ten feet or more down, under the right conditions. The weeds are also just starting to show.

So, how is Woman Lake fishing? Let me tell you about the catching first.

On one year's trip the five of us, the standard crowd, took that short boat ride from Woman Lake through Girl Lake and to Patrick's Restaurant in Longville. A couple of cold Budweiser's and steak and potatoes were on the menu. You see, we badly needed a break from four days of walleye (Perch) dinners at the cabin.

By firm tradition we had been "too busy fishing to shower or shave." Fortunately, Patrick's had never been particular about our appearance ( or smell). The clean–shaven gentleman next to me at the bar didn't seem to mind either.

During some bar side hand–waving ("My walleye was this big..."), I knocked over his drink glass. The martini spilled on his "In 'Fisherman Walleye" fishing shirt. As part of my apologies I asked him how his fishing had been going.

"Well, I haven't caught anything. Nobody else, either. You can't tell me there's a single walleye in this lake."

I couldn't believe the man's words.

Another question,"How long you been here?"

"Came up last Friday, after the opener. We fished mostly Government Point Saturday and Sunday. Did not see a fish."

My own fishing crowd came up on Thursday, our eleventh year in a row. We already had fifty walleyes and a couple of dozen northerns. "You fish the mornings or evenings?"

"Well, I like to sleep late on weekends, but we got out on the lake quite early, 9:30 or 10 o'clock both days."

Hmmmm.... We were already eating breakfast, back in the cabin for an hour by then, after going out and catching walleyes at six in the morning. "Well how about the evening?"

"We fished for a while in the afternoons. Quit around five. That was enough. We weren't going to catch any. We didn't feel like wasting our time on this worthless lake. We're going to Mille Lacs next year. It's the first and last time I'm fishing here."

"Is that right? Well I'm sorry about your bad luck. And about your drink too. Here, let me buy you another one."

Bad luck" My smooth–faced barroom buddy in the In 'Fisherman shirt didn't know the territory. You can make money betting on the evening walleye bite on Woman Lake in the spring.

Midday and late afternoon fishing is dead. About an hour before sunset the northerns start. You catch a handful, whether you want to or not. After that, the walleyes start biting, and stay mighty active for a half hour on either side of sunset. There is no better walleye catching in Minnesota. When it gets full dark, they shut down again, and it's hit and miss for the rest of the night, until the daybreak morning bite.

How do I know all this? I've put time on the water, that's how. I know how to catch the Woman Lake walleyes, and I also know how not to catch them. (My friend at the bar apparently knew only about the latter). But much more important, I know how to fish them. I've been doing it for a long time.

My fishing crowd and I – Peters, Kelly, Boettcher, Zieman – have gone up to Woman on our annual spring trip for over a decade now. Over the years various other people have also gone up with us, and we've cycled a generation of our own boys through our trips.

It's a sacred tradition. We let the crowds of the fishing opener weekend disappear, let the water and weather get a week warmer, and hit the lake the next weekend.

Jerry Peter's cabin

We leave the Twin Cities Thursday morning. The first stop is the McDonald's in Brainerd for lunch (two Big Macs and fries), and then Swanson's in Hackensack for shiner minnows. (We buy some ten dozen or so to start with, and go back a couple of times for more. I kept track one year – we used thirty eight dozen during the five days of fishing). We're at Jerry Peters' cabin on Broadwater Bay by early afternoon.


And then it's fishing: all fishing, eating, sleeping, drinking beer..... and sometimes several of these at once, too. That's it. Nothing else. The stress hassle levels are zero. The work / boss / wife / kids / bills / traffic / etc. things don't exist.

The toughest decisions are ones such as, "should we fish at fifteen feet or thirty feet? Should we fish the point or the flats? Should we go back to the cabin now or wait until the beer runs out? Should we have walleyes or go to Patrick's?" You get the idea.

That's life until Monday noon, when we clean up the cabin and regretfully head south for home. I've cried on occasion in sorrow (or more accurately in my beer) when it comes time to leave.

It all began in 1982 when Peters and I went up with a crowd of six other fishermen. We left Friday noon that year, and came back on Sunday. We caught some six walleyes, although that number is only my best recollection. I wasn't keeping statistics yet. I started recording walleye&northern numbers for each fisherman in 1986. That's part of the tradition now, too.

I froze that entire cold and windy weekend. I spent a small fortune in shiners, feeding the six–inch perch which infested Woman Lake at the time. I was skunked. My first real exposure to "serious" Minnesota walleye fishing; I immediately recognized a good thing when I saw it.

We went up again next year, five of us this time, and stayed a day longer. This second trip we caught a few more walleyes. And we've continued going, learning the lake and learning more about walleyes, The other fishermen from that first trip have slowly drifted away to be replaced by a more dedicated crew, but Peters and I have gone up every year since. And it's only gotten better.

The walleye fishing has improved every year, thanks to intensive stocking by the lake association and Mother Nature's help. The endless strings of six–inch perch have disappeared. Foot–long perch, fewer in number, have replaced them. The northerns are just as plentiful, and also larger. The loons are still there.

Loons. Let me tell you about the loons. One or two evenings each trip we stay out on the lake until well after dark. The walleyes will have quit biting long ago, and the lake will be calm, flat. With luck, there will be fog. And out there in the dark, the loons will go crazy!

loons on the lake

It's spring, and the adult loons nesting on the lake are making little loons. They have to reach agreement on the details first. Certainly, they have to talk about it, or perhaps argue. In any case, there are times when dozens of loons surround our boat, calling each other, nearby and off in the distance, lost in the fog.

Their calls defy description. The words "mysterious" and "eerie" are often used. If you have heard them you know what I mean. If you haven't? Well, you should go listen to a loon, you really should.



I believe the Good Lord created a special set of pleasures for mankind, free and available to everyone. Listening to loons on a lake in the night and the stillness and fog tops the list. You're expected to enjoy.

If you never do, I believe you're in big trouble when you face St. Peter on Judgment Day:

"He went out of His way to give you loon calls in the night, sir. He did it especially for you". The eyebrows rise. "And you sir, you ignored them?" A frown and higher eyebrows. "You didn't care? You never bothered to listen to them?" The storm clouds gather. "And the record shows you told the truth about fishing. You told the truth when only a little padding would have made the stories much better?" Wrath descends."Well, sir, your judgment....."

You will be reincarnated as a bullhead fisherman in Iowa. Don't take the risk. Go listen to a loon in the night.

Loons are important to fishing. So is the fog. When the loons shut up, to engage in their other things, it's time to leave the lake and go in. And I recall a couple of times being so spectacularly lost in the fog and mist and darkness – on a bowl–shaped lake, only a couple of miles across, for heaven's sake – that we may have well have been on Mars.

Now , I don't recommend wandering around in the night and fog on the Ontario lakes. I've been lost there on Lake of the Woods, in bright sunshine and with map in hand. I would have preferred Mars. It can get shaky up there, especially as evening approaches. That's different.

But being lost on Woman Lake is fun. There are two secrets to it. First, if you go in a straight line, you eventually find shore. Then, if you follow shore long enough, you find something you recognize. The danger is minimal.

The second secret is to be a little less lost than the other guy in the boat. You can make money on it......

The boat has been drifting and spinning in the mild breeze of that pitch black night for an hour now. We have no idea whatsoever as to where we are. I mean, we are lost! The spotlight which I shine in various directions, throws a bright streak through the misty air but reveals nothing. The dim landmass which finally looms on the left could be anything.

"There's Horseshoe Island," says Peters confidently.

"Jerry, you're lost. That isn't the Island." ( If it was, Government Point would be on the right.)

"That's Government Point on the right, and there's the channel. We're okay," claims Mr. Peters, infamous resident of 25–years on this lake. He "knows it like the back of his hand," and is proud of it, too.

"You want to bet?" (If this was the point, the buoy on the rocks would clearly show up in the spotlight. I've seen it from a quarter–mile away at times. And there is nothing there, nothing!)

"yeah."

"A case of beer?"

" You're on." (And I've got him now, the cocky bastard!")

We swing around the point, enter the channel, and head for Broadwater Bay and the cabin.

"Uh, Jerry...... Where is the buoy, anyway?"

" The DNR is late this year. Somebody's going to hit the rocks if they don't get it out. Old Milwaukee Light, by the way."

"Sure......."

I've mentioned Government Point a couple of times already. It's one of those classic–looking walleye spots that draws fishing boats in great numbers. The flats and drop–off south of the point are fished harder by far than any other place on Woman Lake.

The Anchored Fleet

The Anchored Fleet

On countless occasions we've zipped past the fleet of boats anchored fifty yards out from the point, as we come out of the channel, on our way to other fishing holes. Only rarely have we seen somebody bringing in a walleye as we roar past. But so often, we've gone to one of our other favorite spots and started catching walleyes immediately, with not a boat in sight.

Then we discovered a couple of things about the point. First, it seems that In 'Fisherman isn't always wrong about everything it touts. Here's what happened one Monday morning a couple years ago. Peters and I were on our way back in to the cabin, on our way home, and......

The waves bounce our boat around on the empty lake. We're the only ones out here, as usual on Monday mornings. The whitecaps break on the rock bar out from the point as our boat enters the channel. We hate to quit fishing for another year. A handy excuse is to test In 'Fisherman's standard claim (you'll see it three times every two issues) that wind and waves bring walleyes up shallow on rock bars. We stop at the point for "one more cast".

But we don't stop out there, fifty yards from the rocks, where the fleet fishes. We go into the rocks, and I mean right on them. On top of the bar, and along it, and up against the base of the boulders & rocks in twelve feet of water. Right there.

Buoy Warning Rocks

As Jerry maneuvers the boat to keep us alongside the rocks, I put a shiner on my Lindy Rig and drop it in the water. We haven't gone ten seconds before I feel a solid "whack!"

Not the usual soft "tick" of a walleye strike. Not the slight increase in weight when they're really biting soft. Not the "tap tap" of a perch. Not the "thunk" of a slip sinker falling between the rocks and into a snag. None of these. A "whack!"

Kelly and Zieman at the
warning buoy on top of the rock bar.

I set the hook and a walleye is on. The line stays down, there is a "thumping" feeling, so it's clearly a walleye.

"Peters, I got one!"

"Already? You sure it isn't......"

But Jerry's comments are interrupted by a strike on his own line. He sets the hook, and now we have two walleyes on. The fish cross lines, one of them taking a line (can't tell if its mine or Peters) dangerously near the propeller. Which we can't shut off because the wind is blowing the boat on the rocks, the waves splashing.....chaos.....

Waves over the transom

An absolutely classic and wonderful moment in fishing – walleyes and wind and waves and rocks. But we handle it. We get these two fish (a 17–incher and a 19–incher) into the boat and release them. We get our lines back in the water, and have an instant replay. Two more walleyes on!

Do we catch walleyes! Over a dozen of them in fifteen minutes, with decent size up to twenty–inches or so. There's no skill required. The walleyes are there and – "whack!" – hungry. We catch and release them until we run out of shiners, and then finally, still reluctantly, put away our fishing poles for the year and head in to the cabin.

........................................................

So what's the point here, to make a small pun out of it? Well, I've told you what walleye–catching pro's we've become over the years on Woman Lake. How we've run out the channel and past Government Point dozens of times, past the fishless fleet, on to other hotspots. Yet quite often we did all that in conditions as described in the last incident. We never stopped. You know the walleyes were there. We were just too dumb to catch them.

It's dawned on me over the years: The more I learn about fishing, the more I realize how little I know. There is always more to learn about fishing – always.

But at least we finally did learn about the point. We've stopped often since, to fish the rocks on the bar. Even if our luck hasn't consistently been as good as that first time, we still pull in fish regularly. It is interesting, though. We've caught and released any number of walleyes in full view of the anchored fleet fifty yards out. And that's where they've stayed, all bunched up – we've never seen anyone else fishing on the rocks. It just goes to show that the "schooling instinct" applies more to fisherman than to fish!


Juris Ozols

Walleye Fishing Records for the group includes walleyes caught in other lakes.





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Date Created: May 29, 1996
Last Modified: April 4, 2004
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