Thursday, November 10, 2011

For the love of 'eyes

   I never was a fan of the walleye. I grew up without them. By the time (at age 14) my deranged and misbegotten “family” dragged me to Colorado, I was already somewhat opposed to bait fishing, and was not really keeping fish for the most part. My best bass days were behind me, and the inshore trinity (redfish, flounder, and speckled trout) was no longer even a distant possibility. I was not stoked.
   
   After living here for a while, I got into the habit of catching stocker trout at Lake Loveland on blobs of floating pink play-dough. To this day nothing says “Colorado” to me more than the smell of that stuff. I would ride my bike over there, catch slimers with catfish methods, and wish I was somewhere else. 
   
   I hate to tell walleye guys this, but the first walleye I ever caught was a double digit trophy. 
   
   I was fishing the inlet at Lake Loveland during the major drawdown some years ago, and it was snowing sideways. I was freezing my ass off because the evil Colorado snow had come upon me with a suddenness that my thin wind breaker left me unprepared to deal with. The only thing that was keeping me alive was the motion of casting. I was tossing a small silver spoon on an ultralight spinning rod spooled with four pound test, hoping for stockers. The spoon was an item which (I had recently learned) was locally popular, called a “Kastmaster.”
   
   I got a wind knot in the line and was forced to allow the spoon to sink to the bottom as I picked at the snarl. The line was hopeless, so I broke it off at the knot and started to gather the line that was in the water by hand, hoping I would not lose the Kastmaster. As I was thinking this I felt the line grow tight and cursed my luck. But there was yield to the snag, and I found I could move it slowly. So I kept hand-winding the line back, wondering what I was snagged on. I got it about two yards from the bank where waves caused by the gale were crashing into the sandy shore where I stood, and felt movement on the line. I was really puzzled now, as there was definitely something alive on the other end. 
   
   I gingerly dragged the last few feet of line in, and saw two enormous, bulging, glowing eyes the size of golfballs. I knew what a walleye looked like, but I had never seen one in person prior to that moment. The waves pushed it onto the shore, and it lay there on the wet sand, with its body in a stiff arc, unmoving, mouth agape. I was dumbstruck. The fish was an absolute giant, and it gave every appearance of being paralyzed. It looked ridiculous, its awesome fangs showing as if it was frozen in mid-scream, the tiny spoon dangling from the corner of its jaw. I had no idea what to make of it.
   
   I reached down and grasped the fish by the tail, feeling the strange sandpaper texture of walleye skin for the first time. I remembered hearing that walleye were very good to eat, and I wanted to show off this bizarre creature, so I decided to keep it. I had no stringer to keep it on, so I hit it on the head with my pliers to kill it, even though I was not sure how alive it was to begin with. It quivered momentarily, the most I had seen it move, and relaxed its body into death.
   
   There was a large orange newspaper bag laying under the footbridge at the inlet, so I wrapped the fish in the bag to keep it from being dried out, and as I was freezing, I huddled with it under the bridge, like a soggy and confused troll, waiting for my ride home. 
   
   The walleye weighed fourteen pounds, and was several inches longer than my skateboard, which was itself thirty-two inches. 
   
   Honestly, it did not taste that good, though it did make two meals for the six of us. 
   
   Hindsight being what it is, I should have let the fish go. I did not know that this was a very large specimen of a walleye, and how lucky it was for me to catch it in the first place. I assumed there were lots more around like it. It is still the biggest walleye of my life. I didn’t even get a picture of it. 
   
   So there is the framework of my first experience with the species. My overall impression was that they did not move when hooked, and did not taste as good as was widely claimed. 
   
   I was, in short, not a fan.
   
   Fast forward twenty years, and I am really growing fond of the critters. I now understand that the appeal of the fish is with the fact that they are fussy and often hard to tempt, and that they are in fact excellent table fare, in smaller sizes. I have come full circle on killing fish. I don’t kill even one percent of the fish I catch, but when I do kill fish they are almost all walleye. I would not dream of killing a trophy, and the biggest ‘eye I would keep would be four pounds or less. But I enjoy catching them. I like to finesse fish, and finesse tactics translate perfectly to walleye. 


     They are teaching me how to fish with jerkbaits, something I was never very good at. 


A limit of solid keepers, courtesy of my beloved Aurora Reservoir


And did I mention they are tasty?

SS


3 comments:

  1. I've yet to catch a walleye....but dang, they do look delicious.

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  2. Very good post! Enjoyed your tale of landing that big Walleye. Not sure how I would have handled it, but, good to hear you took the time to get a couple of meals from the big guy. P.S. only caught one in my life and it was from Horsetooth!

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  3. I really regret it now, but it is what it is. I was a kid, ya know? It is one of the last big fish I ever killed, appart from a giant brown that gagged on a Rapala, at which point I ceased fishing hardbaits for trout.

    We live, we learn.

    SS

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