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Yoopers anticipate walleye opener with baited breath/Woods, water & worse

May 13, 2011
By Jim Junttila , The Daily Mining Gazette

"So much so that OD has evolved from a lowly anagram to a hard-working action verb, as in OD-ing on Opening Day," said WW&W walleye correspondent Sandra Vitreum. "Many Yoopers tend to over-do it, but what can we yield to if not our piscatorial passions?" she asked.

"The pent-up desire to get the boat in the water is right up there with Opening Day of brookie season and deer camp," Vitreum added. "I'm looking forward to wetting a line with WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen on Lac la Belle."

Most Yoopers know that Sunday is the walleye, northern and muskie opener, and I know it takes all the AADD, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, I can muster to divert my attentions from steelhead and brookies to walleye and northern. We're lucky to have such a wealth of walleye waters in the U.P.; fish that haven't seen a lure since ice-over are waiting for you with baited breath, and visions of their first juicy crawler or fat minnow of the season dancing in their heads. A Rapala might look good, but the nutritional value doesn't compare.

"It's an embarrassment of riches," Vitreum bragged. "From the Menominee River and Bays de Noc on the southern end to Lake Medora and Lake Fanny Hooe near Copper Harbor on the north shore, with Lac la Belle, Gratiot, Rice, Portage and Torch lakes in between. Throw in North & South Manistique Lakes at Curtis, the Ontonagon River, and Lake Gogebic, and we're talking some of the top walleye fisheries in the state. It's what makes the U.P. such a lusty fishing destination; Hot multi-species action, cold beer, beautiful uncrowded waters, and fabled Yooper hospitality with a fish fry on every corner."

Even the most serious steelheaders take off their waders to fish the walleye opener.

Local Keweenaw anglers John Parsons, Dan Glinn and Scotty Sibbald have been chasing rainbows all season, and have gotten lucky at the Big Huron and Silver Rivers where they ran into near-perfect flows and a hot bite, catching wild, chrome-bright, fresh-from-the-lake fish in the 4-7 pound range.

"It's been perfect ever since Easter," Parsons said. "The flow meter at Big Eric's Bridge was at two and the river was fulla big, frisky fish!" He fishes a seven-weight fly rod with floating line and a single yarn fly or a two-fly rig, an egg fly with a little hare's ear or stone fly nymph.

Dan Glinn spends shifts on the river, watching runs ebb and flow. "Just when you think they're slowing down, you get a fresh pod of new fish just itchin' for a fight, and I'm the one to give it to 'em," he said confidently, "This Spring has been the best steelheading ever on the brookie opener."

Dan fishes an 8-1/2 foot Shakespeare graphite fly rod with a Pflueger Medallist reel spooled with shooter line for bottom-bouncing his own hand-tied orange and pink yarnflies. "When you feel that rhythmic tick-tick-tick along the bottom, you know you're doing it right," he tipped.

Scotty Sibbald works a long 9-foot flyrod and Pflueger reel spooled with flyline and 15-pound backing. He drifts yarn flies tipped with a Berkley Gulp egg, but at age 75, he doesn't fish as hard as he once did. "I've gotten my money's worth outa the mouth of the Tobacco this Spring," he grinned, "four shiny-as-a-silver-dollar steelhead in the 23-27-inch range; a wild 6-pound fish sure gives you a fight in those rapids." Scotty shifts gears to Gratiot Lake for the walleye opener.

Ice-out, post-spawn walleye often feed in warming surface waters, and I like slow-trolling for them with a bladed RJ crawler harness or crankbaits made by Houghton luremaker Ron Wiitanen,, behind those blaze-orange Church mini planer boards, These fish are lazy, lethargic and finicky feeders in the cold, barely-40 OD water, so take it easy and troll at the speed of a glacier. If the crawler doesn't turn 'em on, you can't go wrong with live minnows, the more nervous the better.

Ron's making a name for himself on the pro walleye circuits, and has made believers outa local walleye, northern and muskie anglers, myself included, who love that tantalizingly-tight little wiggle and natural swimming action that has the same effect on fish that Paris Hiltunen has on fishermen.

With brookie, steelhead, splake, lake trout, browns, coho, kings, perch and walleye venues on the menu, the Yooper fishing season is evolving nicely. Don't miss the Northern Electric Ontonagon Lake Trout Classic, May 20-22,, 884-2770.

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



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