LAKE VERMILION— A lot of conventional wisdom took a beating here during Saturday’s fishing opener, including the usual assumption that opener is invariably timed with lousy weather. …
LAKE VERMILION— A lot of conventional wisdom took a beating here during Saturday’s fishing opener, including the usual assumption that opener is invariably timed with lousy weather.
Instead, it was a picture-perfect day, with plenty of sunshine breaking through scattered clouds and rapidly warming temperatures, despite the chilly water.
With the ice out just three days ahead of this year’s fishing opener, most anglers on Lake Vermilion worked the shallow, dark waters of Pike Bay expecting to find an abundance of larger, post-spawn walleye in the warming waters. Conventional wisdom dashed again.
Anglers caught plenty of walleye, but the nice ones proved to be in deeper water for the most part.
“I started in Pike Bay, but didn’t catch anything but those little dinks,” said Cliff Wagenbach, a longtime Lake Vermilion fishing guide. “That’s what I heard from other folks, too,” he said.
My Saturday morning started the way it has for the past several openers now, with a 7 a.m. appointment at my friend Rob Bryers’ dock next to the Birch Point public landing. With his dock still underwater, he had pulled his boat up on shore for loading. Bryers is another longtime fishing guide who typically doesn’t take clients on opener. For him, it’s a chance to test the waters before he has paying clients, so we hit several of his favorite spots to get a sense of where the fish are at, while I take the pulse of the opener from several vantage points on the lake.
As usual, we first stopped off at the tip of Birch Point, a favorite early season spot for many and found several boats bobbing in moderate east wind, which was generating a perfect walleye chop and a bit of a chill off of Big Bay, where ice still ruled just a few days earlier. We dropped the jigs and minnows and a few minutes later I pulled in the first fish, a nice 15-inch walleye.
“That’s going to fry up nice,” I commented as Rob tossed it in the live well.
We came up empty on a few more bites. In the still-cold water, the bite was soft to say the least and at times you had to really pay attention to even notice that ever-so-slight tension that indicated you had one on the line.
With his graph, Rob could see there were plenty of walleye down there, in about 25 feet of water, but they generally showed only marginal interest in the rainbows we were trying to drop on their heads. “They’re just not hungry yet,” said Rob. “Another week and it should be phenomenal.”
We next headed to the north side of Pine Island, a several mile jaunt that left us sitting alone on one of Rob’s honey holes in Sunset Bay. I caught a second nice one there and tossed a 12-incher back, while Rob got on the board with another 15-incher for the well. We had a few more misses, as we tried to figure out the pattern of the cold-water bite, eventually concluding that a little line and some patience was the key to a set hook.
When they seemed to shut off for a bit, we headed to another well-known hot spot on the north side of Pine and found several other boats but no action. After 15 minutes without so much as a nibble, we decided to check out the scene in Pike Bay. We went around the east side of Pine and headed southwest across the full fetch of Big Bay, where we had to zip our jackets again from the chill of miles of frigid water.
Pike Bay was packed with boats and we managed to negotiate our way near a spot near Puncher Point that had produced big time for Rob last year about this time. Other boats moved in and out from the spot Rob wanted to try but we cast into it from a ways out but never connected with anything other than a six-inch walleye that I quickly tossed back.
I had hoped our foray to Pike Bay would at least give me the chance for a few photos of folks hauling in fish, but the few walleye we saw being caught were those “little dinks” as Cliff had described them.
By the time we gave it up, it was about a quarter to eleven and we had just four fish in the live well. We opted to head back, with a last stop back at our original destination off Birch Point. It didn’t take long for the real action to start. I pulled in another 15-incher, and shortly after that, both Rob and I each had one on the line, and we added two more nice ones to the well.
I tossed back another little one just before Rob connected on another keeper, which put us at our limit. It all happened in about 15 minutes, which left us wondering if we would have been better off sleeping in.
Rob said that wasn’t that unusual for early season and in the fall, when the walleye seem to get more active in the midday, responding perhaps to the better light in the deeper water.
Wagenbach agreed. “For us, the best bite was from ten o’clock to noon,” he said.
So much for the early bird getting the worm. It was strike three for conventional wisdom.
With mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine in the forecast after a brief stint of showers midweek, the conditions for walleye fishing should improve markedly as we head toward Memorial Day weekend. The walleye were out there in big numbers. Wagenbach, who fished with three or four guys both days over the weekend, boated more than 100 walleye from anywhere from 24-36 feet of water, tossing the vast majority of them back. Rob’s graph, which lit up with fish at most of our stops, attested to the abundance as well.
As we headed back in before noon with a full limit of perfect eating-sized walleye, I couldn’t help but think it’s going to be a good summer on Vermilion. Let the fun begin…