Brad Dokken / Forum Communications, Published May 10 2012
Walleye still the king around here
From Sakakawea to Superior, from Devils Lake to Rainy Lake – and all points in between – the story’s the same: Walleye is king.
So, what’s the attraction? It’s certainly not the fight. There are a lot of species available to anglers in the northern United States and Canada that put up a better showing at the end of the line.
Still, there’s something about the walleye that has earned it almost hallowed status among anglers of all ages.
In an effort to understand the allure of the walleye, we asked a handful of professional anglers, fishing guides and fisheries managers to weigh in with their thoughts on what makes this species so popular.
Here’s what they had to say:
Duane Peterson, Bemidji
“Obviously, the allure in the northern sector of the country is probably twofold: I think the table fare is something that’s highly important to those of us that fish walleyes. We believe in catch-and-release and selective harvest, but we still like to have fresh walleye fillets, and that’s a high priority.
“Second is the availability, the walleye in the northern sector is available in all of our large lakes and reservoirs in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and out into the Great Lakes.
“There’s been a huge amount of education about how and where and when to catch walleyes and the In-Fisherman (magazine and TV show) has been highly responsible for that, at least in the early going, as we learned about offshore structure and the different ways to catch them.
“You look at the tradition of walleye fishing, our grandfathers’ and fathers’ tradition in fishing is handed down. If you’re a walleye fisherman, your kids and grandkids are probably going to be walleye fishermen.”
Peterson is co-founder of Northland Tackle and recent inductee into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.
Henry Drewes, Bemidji
“I think it’s folklore; they’re the Minnesota fish. People have been fishing them for so long they’ve got legendary angling status in the state. There’s also the palatability; everybody likes to eat walleye. They’re easy to clean, they’re easy to prepare. They don’t have a tremendous amount of flavor so they’re real easy to add flavor to, based on your taste. They’re just kind of an icon. They’re a cool-looking fish; when you look at them, if you were to ask a kid to draw a picture of a fish, they’d draw something long, cylindrical with big eyes and long teeth. That’s a walleye. They’re also connected to that whole culture of the fishing opener and the fish you go for – all bundled up to make them the icon.”
Drewes is regional fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.
Brian Brosdahl, Max, Minn.
“People love walleyes because they taste good, and they also like them because you can catch them on a jig and a minnow. They’re a pretty fish, for one thing, they’re gold and they have a unique look. A lot of our lakes have them. They’re evenly distributed throughout the Midwest. Perch, crappies and bluegills are popular, but walleyes are more popular because they’re a bigger variety of those fish. We keep the 15- to 17-inchers for good table fare, but you have a true chance of catching one that’s 8-to-10-to-12 pounds; any species of fish that weighs that much is fun to catch.”
Brosdahl is a professional walleye angler, guide and fishing promoter.
Jonny Petrowske, Waskish, Minn.
“Well, that is a good question. I would have to say the No. 1 reason is my driver’s license is stamped Minnesota. When one is born into the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you instinctively like the Vikings no matter how poorly they play, casseroles no matter what concoction is mixed into them and you like to fish walleyes for reasons you can’t explain. It’s part of a Minnesotan’s genetic structure.
“Aside from the relentless, yet subconscious desire to back-troll spinners at 1.2 mph, the walleye is a remarkable creature that can make you a star or make you stark-raving mad. Walleye fishing is a lot like golf; some days, you are dialed in and reaping the rewards, and some days, you just can’t figure it out and want to throw your gear in the water. With walleye fishing, you earn your keep, and the thrill of success can be great if you can put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
“They don’t taste too bad either.”
Petrowske is a fishing guide on Upper Red Lake.
Johnnie Candle, Devils Lake
“That is an easy one. They never do the same thing twice! Walleye fishing is the angler’s version of live chess. I am not saying that walleyes do not become predictable, but it sure doesn’t happen very often. One day, you are catching them in 25 feet of water on a rock pile, and the next day, it is an 8-foot weed edge on the same lake.
“They are by far the most finicky fish in the lake. Some days, they will bite anything you put in front of them, and later the same day, if it is not a green jig head with a 2½-inch Gulp! minnow in chartreuse color, you will not get a bite.
“The walleye has challenged the mental side of my fishing game more than any other species I have ever targeted. I enjoy that challenge. It makes me feel like I earned every limit I have ever caught. Toss in the fact that there is no better eating fish in the world and what’s not to love?”
Candle is a longtime tournament fisherman and guide.
Brad Dokken is the outdoors writer for the Grand Forks Herald