Catching walleye out of a canoe

Mark Walters • OUTDOOR COLUMNIST

I have a confession. I live about 25 miles from Nekoosa which is located on the Wisconsin River in Wood County and have never fished for walleye on that stretch of river which has become extremely respected for quality walleye fishing.

My plan was somewhat simple: after doing a bit of recon work I was going to put my canoe in at a local park that is located below the Domtar Paper Mill which is also where the dam is in Nekoosa.

From Nekoosa to Sauk City the slot limit for walleye does not allow fish between 20-28 inches to be kept and this rule is creating lots of “slots” and an incredible fishery.

Wednesday, April 8

High 43, Low 29

Last week I correctly wrote that a lack of rainfall and snowmelt was having an effect on the spawning habits of walleye and Great Lakes rainbow trout. Fastforward seven days and it is raining daily, the ditches are streams and the marshes are lakes.

I was super excited as I rigged my canoe on the shoreline with four rods, a propane lantern, two coolers (one for fish and one as a dry box) and a couple of anchors.

I would be wearing chest waders and several layers of clothes as my plan was to be on the water from mid-afternoon until about 10:00 the next morning.

There was heavy rain in the forecast but a deadline that was looming meant the trip was a go, no matter what the weather.

So I am doing the task of rigging my canoe and a shore fisherman starts casting a jig right next to me. The fella’s name was Steve Droste and in no more then five minutes he hooks onto a good fish and lands it, and it turns out to be a 26-inch, spawned-out walleye.

Five minutes later Steve catches a 23-inch walleye and I am becoming very excited for my adventure.

I did speak with several fishermen who had things to say like, “the wind switched to the northeast and the walleye are not eating,” but all I could think was I had about 20 hours to try to catch a big marble eye out of my canoe. I might add I did not see any other canoes on this stretch of river.

So I paddle up by the dam and anchor in a “secret spot.” I toss out two lines rigged with floating jigs and minnows and then begin working with a one-fourth-ounce lead head jig.

On my first cast I lose the jig, so I start tossing crankbaits and have no luck. After a while, I pull anchor and head to another “secret spot” a good mile down river. As I pass Steve he is catching another big walleye.

This stretch of the Wisconsin River receives huge respect for the opportunity to catch a big walleye and it is pretty cool to see lots of both shore fishermen, and guys and gals in boats.

I fish my second spot for four hours and only caught one very small walleye but did not see anybody else using their nets either.

Now it is 10:30 p.m. and to the best of my knowledge no one else is fishing this piece of river, so I pull anchor, paddle upstream and anchor 20 yards out from shore, exactly where Steve was fishing.

I have my lantern, two lines with floating jigs and am always working a jig and minnow or a crankbait. The hand that I reformed with a wood splitter this winter works but I have to take breaks (I broke three fingers and am losing a fingernail).

It is after one in the morning and though I am actually enjoying myself I keep thinking that in reality I suck at catching walleye like this. Then, just like that, I catch a small walleye on a floating jig.

Then I catch an 18-incher on a crankbait. Then a storm with lots of thunder and lightning and a very cold rain envelopes my world (I hid in my truck).

Just before the deluge, I land a “slot” fish which measures 22 inches and it was really fun to catch in a hard current while sitting in a canoe. After the deluge, I caught more walleye with the biggest measuring 23 inches.

I strapped my canoe to my trusty Chevy at 10:00 the next morning and had that awesome “I-did-it feeling.”

When I got home I was so stiff that I literally almost fell out of my truck as I did not realize how stiff I actually was. Twenty-some years to retirement!

Sunset


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