Out in it: Nice opener haul despite short outing
May 15, 2020
Avoiding the expected crowds, I slid the big blue Lund into the water a little past 4 a.m. on opener morning. By the light of the full moon, David, Joseph and I made our way slowly upstream from Boy Scout Landing on the St. Louis River. Several boats zipped by in the moonlight and shadows, brave enough or carefree enough to forge the river full speed ahead.
I had planned to avoid the masses, but the draw of openers past nagged at me until I relented. Also, I wanted to target big fish. I decided late Friday night to register for the Minnesota Bound Fishing for our Frontlines tournament, a fundraiser for our front-line health care workers battling COVID-19. I figured chasing some fish with a couple of my boys and helping our front-line workers - that would be a good way to spend the day.
The tournament, like everything lately, was run a little differently. Completely online, contestants submitted their catches electronically through the FishDonkey app. The longest largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye in the state would be awarded prizes.
We slowed our upriver ascent and began our assault on the walleyes below. Opening morning is always a gamble, and until the first walleye crosses the gunwales it's always a little nerve-wracking. Fortunately for us, the anticipation was short-lived. Twenty yards into our first pass my rod doubled over. I snapped back hard into the fish, sealing its fate. Surging in the current, the walleye showed off her strength. I let her wear herself out, not rushing her to the net. When the battle ended, a big post-spawn female walleye lay in the bottom of the boat. We had barely gotten our lines in the water; it was going to be a good morning.
We reoriented ourselves and chucked our lures far behind the boat. Less than a minute later, an eater walleye decided to take a ride in our livewell. And so it went. Mostly 15- to 20-inch males paid us a visit, but the occasional bigger female joined the party, including a 27-inch beauty that we registered electronically for the tournament.
The crowds grew as the sun rose higher in the sky. One thing became apparent: the river was full of fish. I saw more nets out and walleyes landed than I have for years. We never laid off the gas and trolled cranks all morning, steadily adding to our totals.
Just as we were hitting our groove, I got a text from Evan Rosemore, one of my former students. He is an accomplished tournament angler, and owner-operator of North Koast Angling. He and his wife were on the Rainy River, also fishing the tournament. They were a little miffed I was already on the board. We teased each other throughout the day as my walleye sat atop the standings. I knew that at any moment they could bump me off.
The armada of boats began to suffocate the bite and our enjoyment of being back on the water. We pulled the plug and we were back home by midmorning. I spent the day filleting fish, editing our fishing footage, and logging into the tournament to see if I had been overtaken. Checking the results midafternoon, I noticed Evan's wife, Angel, had taken the lead in the northern pike division with a chunky 37.25-inch fish. She also snuck into fourth place in the walleye division with a respectable 25.5-inch entry.
By the time the day ended, I was able to piece together a video of our opener. You can check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-iRV9xHjqw.
I couldn't keep my eyes open until midnight, conking out before the tournament officially ended. I awoke to find the Rosemores had pulled off the pike victory; and my walleye had held on for first place, sorry Evan and Angel ... maybe next time. Throw in a Mother's Day fish fry, and it shook out to be a pretty darn good weekend.
Bret Baker is an award-winning outdoors columnist and resident of Cloquet. Email him at Legacy [email protected]