By Nick Simonson
I’ve been prone to some idiotic moments in the outdoors, such as toting an unloaded shotgun racked over my shoulders on the way back from a long walk in the field, when all of a sudden birds start flushing; or missing a buck standing broadside at 20 yards with my bow because my nerve-wracked brain thought he was at 30. Fishing is no different. It seems as if every missed hookset – especially on those where a steamrolling bass or freight-training pike slams my offering – is one of those ‘duh’ moments that stings a little bit more with each passing season. However, this past weekend, for the first time ever, I experienced a good type of idiotic in the outdoors which has left a dumbfounded smile on my face for days.
It all began with a late day plan hatched via text to meet a buddy for a few hours at a small prairie lake halfway between our hometown where he was visiting and my current residence. I called a mutual friend in the know on the walleye scene and asked his opinion and what he had heard about the water, and if he could confirm what whispers I had gleaned in passing conversations and from the backchannels of the internet forums and private messages.
“Aw, man, it’s idiot fishing over there – meaning anyone could catch those walleyes,” he stated bluntly, before adding in the jab that there may even be some hope for a couple of bass-oriented guys like us.
With a laugh and some follow-up chit-chat, I thanked him for the advice and hit the road for the meet up on the small prairie water and once connected, my buddy and I wound our way through the back hills and gravel roads until we reached the boat launch. Loaded and ready, we trolled crankbaits from the ramp to the far side of the lake with no luck for about 45 minutes, and I began to wonder if success on the water was as idiot-proof as its reputation had suggested. When we reached the windward side, with a nice chop coming in against the shore, I suggested trolling live bait and we dropped the troller and a pair of bottom bouncers over a stretch that showed a number of red arcs on the sonar which were hanging off a small point jutting into the water. My buddy, who rarely fished walleyes, but had just come off a great run of bass through Minnesota on his way home, asked for a couple pointers and I provided my suggestions on feeling for fish and setting the hook when a walleye bites. A couple of minutes later, his rod was bent with a fifteen-inch fish that came up to the surface and quickly went into the live well. A cookie-cutter keeper followed shortly after he rebaited and his weight hit the bottom, and I made the shift from chartreuse to silver to join in on the action.
As we cruised back and forth and isolated the most productive 200-yard stretch of shoreline between a rockpile and the point, I caught two and released one under 13 inches, before finding more fish staging in 15 feet of water, which would serve as the day’s magic number in terms of depth.
“We’d only need a couple more to make a worthwhile meal for your family,” I stated, explaining the fish could go home with him at the end of the trip, if these turned out to be the only hungry ones in the lake.
Within ten seconds, he had his third keeper on, and my rod bent hard with the hit of an aggressive walleye. From that point, we redefined the term idiotic on the small water as it seemed even those fishing with gummy worms could have caught the walleyes schooling below us. Dirt was flying from the bait box, chunks of well-gnawed crawlers were scattered throughout the dash and all over the gunwales as walleye after walleye came on board. Our hands bled with the pricks of dorsal fins and slices of gill covers and the occasional stab of a hook point as dozens of fish seemingly jumped in the boat. While most were 13 to 15 inches, there were a few larger ones scattered in the blur of golden-green scaled and white-tipped fish that came to the net, and we found ourselves in the situation of saving the final slots in a two-man limit for those quality walleyes to cap it all off.
As we spun back and forth over the hotspot, we sifted through the steady action with a bewildered sense of accomplishment at how insane the fishing had been as we eclipsed forty fish from the edge just off the windswept weedline. In the process of congratulating ourselves, I felt a strong tug at the end of the line, far more powerful than those from the generation of smaller fish that had set up along the windswept breakline. My rod bent as if I had snagged a cinderblock which stayed low, shook its head, and refused to come up. While it wasn’t a giant, when the 22-incher broke the surface, its size differential to the day’s standard got me excited and it was released shortly after it was landed.
With time ticking down and the clock directing our return to the launch and real life, we weeded through a couple dozen more for our last two nice ones before we fired up the big motor and headed back toward the dock. We recapped and attempted to recount the number we had turned loose, having lost track in the fog of war that surrounded the moonset hour and sent fish zipping side-to-side on our offerings as we reeled them up behind the boat.
Thinking pretty highly of myself and the fishing we had encountered and estimating we did about as well as the die-hard walleye anglers on the lake with us, my buddy put it all in perspective, as if to not let me get too big of an ego over the day’s events.
“Hey…what if we were fishing the bad section of the lake?”
I laughed out loud, knowing that it didn’t bother me if that was the case, and it was entirely fine to fall into the category of idiotic on this particular day…in our outdoors.