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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

The 'eyes have it

May 14, 2010
By Jim Junttila

And we want what they have so bad we can taste it. Opening Day casts a powerful spell on Yooper walleye anglers and I'm no exception.

I plan to go after them every which way Saturday, by land and by water, on foot and by boat, riggin, jiggin' and castin' crankbaits. My waders and the resta my gear are already in the backa the van, and I'm all spooled up with fresh line. I've run a silk stocking through my rod guides to check for nicks and burrs that can nick and abrade line to where a good fish can break you off, and well, because I like the feel of silk stockings and everything they stand for. I've checked and double-checked my leaders, knots, swivels, hooks and jigs.

I've got live and Gulp Alive minnows, crawlers and leeches, my trusty floating jointed rapalas, RJ minnows and a few Little Rippers ready to go.

"I'll be jiggin and castin' cranks on opening day," said walleye guide Larry Smith of Fish On II Charters in Lac la Belle (289-4481). Here's how he hits the water:

Live bait rigging with a medium-light rod and reel spooled with 6 lb. Trilene XL, a 3-foot 8-pound leader with a 3/8-ounce slip sinker, bead, small barrel swivel, No. 2 live bait hook or floating jighead tipped with a crawler, minnow or leech.

Jigging - 6-pound Fireline tied directly to a 1/8-3/8-ounce Northland Buckaroo or Gumball jig in orange or chartreuse, live or Gulp Alive minnow or half crawler.

Casting crankbaits - 8-pound Berkley fluorocarbon line with a duo-lok snap and shallow-running Rapala Husky Jerks, Shad Raps, Storm Jr. Thundersticks, and Reef Runner Lil Rippers.

I like the little 6-inch mini-planer boards for shallow and clear water work, plus I always get stoked when a good fish pulls one under.

After all that hot spawning action, post-spawn walleye head for the warmest water and easiest food they can find for a little rest and recovery, pounding panfish, perch, frogs, emerald shiners, miscellaneous minnows, baby bullheads and crayfish, the slower-moving and easier to catch the better. Bullheads are spawning at the same time and walleye and northerns eat it up.

"It's over," said retired MDNR fisheries biologist Tom Rozich. "Once the water temperature reaches 44 degrees, walleye are done spawning; Now they're on a mission to feed and regain energy."

Find the preyfish and you find the predators. Whether I'm wading or boating, I target docks, rip-rap, shallow sandbars, points and weedbeds, especially when it's windy with colored water washing baitfish against the shore. Wherever the shoreline and bottom transitions from mud to sand or gravel to rock is a good place to start casting for walleye.

If there's a patch of screaming yellow cowslips growing outa black muck at the edge of the water, it means extra good luck.

Don't be surprised if you hook up with northern and smallmouth prowling the same water.

"They all go where the baitfish go," Rozich added, "especially to the windward shore."

Pitch your jig or crankbait into structure, tight to pilings, piers, rip-rap, stumps and pilings. Wherever rivers or little cricks flow into the lake or bay, the warmer water attracts feeding fish.

"Walleye aren't particularly fussy feeders," said WW&W fishing correspondent Dolly Vardenen. "It's the ABCs of fish nutrition for them, any old aquatic insects, baitfish and crustaceans will do."

"Whatever you do, do it slow," she added suggestively. "I, er, I mean they respond to a slow hand and an easy touch."

I plan to take her advice, spending the morning shift fishing boatless, stealthily wading the shoreline shallows of Portage, Torch and Rice Lakes like a great blue heron, casting to walleye and northern who don't know I'm there, luring them to bite with my slow-mo twitch-pause-swim retrieve.

Warm weather walleye openers are few and far between in the Keweenaw. But even if it's cold and rainy, I'll burrow into my hood and think warm thoughts, pretending I'm wading the shallows of Tampa Bay, where it's 80 and the water's 70, casting to specks, snook and tailing reds in a sunny mangrove bayou.

In other outdoor news, I got my first Houghton County tick of the season last Saturday, the woods are alive with trilliums by the millions, the peepers are peeping at dusk, the Raptor Rendezvous is on at Brockway Mountain,, and the Migratory Bird Festival is on the wing,

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@



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