[IMAGE: Young woman with large walleye]

Walleye Angler's Paradise

Dedicated walleye anglers will tell you that there is no fish that compares to the walleye. Its elusive nature makes it one of the most challenging gamefish to pursue; its delicate, firm white meat makes it one of the back-country cook's most sought-after catches.

[IMAGE: Angler releasing trophy walleye]The walleye is Minnesota's state fish, and it thrives in the cold, clear oligotrophic lakes of the Boundary Waters and Quetico. (Oligotrophic means that the lake is relatively infertile.) However, the growth rate of walleye is much slower in these cold, infertile lakes than in the warmer, richer lakes farther south, so catch-and-release fishing of larger walleyes is an important part of maintaining the trophy walleye fishery in the BWCA and Quetico.

What constitutes a ''trophy'' walleye? It depends on the angler. For some, even a smaller walleye is a ''trophy'' because of the special memories associated with a trip, or the particular circumstances of the catch. However, most anglers consider a five-pound walleye a special catch, and most serious walleye anglers consider a walleye over eight pounds to be trophy-class. A walleye over ten pounds is a bona fide trophy in anybody's book, however, and the ten-pound mark seems to be a dividing line in many serious angler's minds. The walleye being released in the photo at right measured 30-1/2 inches, and although it could not be weighed accurately because it was released, estimates place it at over ten pounds.

In spring, walleyes spawn near shallow, windswept shorelines. Many trophy walleye are caught at this time of year, using Rapalas and other floating minnow plugs cast over the shallows at dawn and dusk; in-line spinners like Mepps can also be productive. After the spawn, walleyes drop deeper and tend to hold off breaklines or other contour areas. In late spring, a lead-head jig with a plastic body bounced slowly along the structure is a good choice; however, campers often catch excellent walleye in the evening by casting small Shad Raps and other floating plugs over rocky or sandy shorelines by the campsite.

[IMAGE: Stringer of walleyes]

As the surface water warms in the summer, walleyes go deeper in the lake in search of cooler temperatures as well as darkness (the walleye's eyes are very sensitive to light). Lindy rigs and other walking-sinker rigs, baited with a leech or nightcrawler, take walleyes consistently in early summer; a small flicker blade in gold, chartreuse, or even fluorescent orange may improve your odds at any given time.

Slip-bobber fishing is, by far, the most popular method for mid-summer walleyes. The slip bobber enables the angler to reach depths as great as 30 feet; a squirming leech or lively nightcrawler is hard for the hungry walleye to resist! Another excellent mid-summer choice is a jig that is heavy enough to reach the depths the walleyes are in. In general, summertime baits are larger than those used in spring, because the natural forage the walleyes are chasing has matured to larger size.

Fall finds the walleyes moving up shallower during feeding hours. At this time of year, they prefer slopes that are steeper than the gradual ones they use in spring, because this enables them to dash up quickly into the shallows for a meal, then return to the deeper, cooler water quickly.

In the fall, the surface waters, which have been warmer than the deep water all summer, cool down until they are cooler than the deeper water. Since cool water is heavier than warm water, the water rotates from top to bottom in what is called turnover. This presents a challenge to even the best angler, because the walleyes can be found at any depth during the turnover.

Whatever season you visit the Boundary Waters or Quetico, be sure to bring along your skillet for the best shore lunch you'll ever have. Walleyes from one to two pounds are ideal for eating; those larger than five pounds should be released to fight again, unless you wish to take one home ''for the wall.''

If you are going to release a walleye, try to land it quickly so it is not too tired when you release it. Never pick up a fish that you plan to release with dry hands or gloves; you will remove the protective layer of slime on the fish's skin, exposing it to fungus, disease, and possible death. Never pick up any fish by the eyes if you will be releasing it; the fish's vision will surely be damaged and it will not survive. If it has swallowed the hook, cut the line rather than pulling out the hook; the hook will dissolve in the walleye's stomach, and the fish has a much better chance of surviving than if you pull out a deeply embedded hook. Always have your camera ready if you would like pictures of your trophy before releasing it; take a few quick shots and return the fish to the water. If the fish is sluggish, hold it gently as shown in the photo above by cradling its belly with one hand and holding its tail with the other hand, and move the fish gently back and forth in the water to force fresh water over its gills. When the fish is ready to go, you will know it. There is no feeling that compares to that of releasing a trophy fish; try it next time, and you will understand that special feeling.

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