Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Big Weekend's Coming

Well, Minnesota Fishing Opener is just a few days away and everything seems to be coming together like it always does.  For me the Opener still has a magical appeal as it has all of my life.   Back home in Eleva fishing opener was always the most anticipated day of the year, better than birthdays or even Christmas!  Its been that way for as long as I remember.  The Eleva Pond was a typical Mill Pond created by the damming up of a fast moving creek then using the power of the water to mill grain prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine.  Most small towns and villages had a local water powered mill to provide the community with a location to process grain for many applications.  Although many of these ponds are no longer maintained, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin has no natural lakes so the ponds were the focal point for fishing and remain that way today.  The Eleva Pond is feed by Big Creek and Adams Creek, both spring feed and perfect for trout.  Every spring the local Rod and Gun Club would stock 500 or so adult trout in the pond, just in time for opener, the first week in May.  Known as "planted trout" their flesh was white and rather bland.  If the trout survived the season, feeding on freshwater shrimp eventually turns their flesh to a deep orange color improving the flavor tremendously.  We called these fish "natives" although true native fish were rate.  Worms were usually the bait of choice however an occasional Mepps Spinner was used when a more exciting way to fish was desired.  Here is a picture I pulled from the Eau Claire Leader, a young man fishing the Eleva Pond on the opener.  That could have just as well been me 50 years ago, I am glad some things never change.

The opener sets in motion a good list of things need to be done.  Tackle box cleaned, new line on the reels, searching for the last place you set down that prized lure last fall, and getting the boat ready.  Having installed my electronics, I had the chance to launch the boat in Diamond Lake, a shallow weedy farm lake a few miles from the house.  The lake is about 10 feet at it's max and although I believe it must freeze out from time to time, it's become home to a number of White Pelicans either migrating north or staying for a few months.  There must be some fish left as the count was over 30 birds.  Launching the boat, the motor started, my goal was to get some feel for the new depth finder and GPS, check out the side/down scan function, and do my normal check of all systems including livewell pumps, switches, gauges, and electric motors.  In mounting my Side Scan transducer there are conflicting theories of whether to mount for high speed operation as over 8 mph, the readings become less accurate.  I did a combination mounting, securing it to the step under the transom yet allowing the surface to read at full throttle.  This proved to be one of my better ideas as at full throttle my down scan images mirrored the sonar readouts with incredible accuracy.  The down scan offers an interesting look at what is underneath you, sort of like standing on the bottom of the lake and looking at a side view.  There are still a few settings to figure out on the HDS system but slowly I am mastering the intent of the manufacturer, not necessarily the easiest task.  There was an interesting twist to my maiden run this year.  I have removed all of the old transducers as the Ranger has a factory installed transducer epoxied to the fiberglass floor which "shoots" thru the hull providing excellent high speed performance.  The side scan transducer is long and narrow, offering little if any drag.  The first thing I noticed was my boat seemed awfully fast for having a full tank of gas.  A check of the GPS read 38.7 mph.  This made no sense as the most I could ever get out of the boat with just me in it and a quarter tank of gas was 37 mph.  I made a number of test runs hitting 39 at one point, 2 mph faster than last year.  Was it the 6 month rest the motor experience, I doubt it.  The only thing I can figure is my two Genetron transducers where adding drag.  I hardly believe this as these were installed for minimal effect but numbers don't lie.  Maybe its an anomaly!

Opener is going to be extra special this year.  Not only is it our 38th annual but now we are destined to be television stars.  Yep, Team Walleye organizer Ron Edberg was watching a regionally produced outdoors show call Minnesota Bound, hosted by Ron Schara when he noticed a contest they were having.  The show was featuring traditions in the outdoors and invited anyone to submit their "Fishing Opener Traditions", 300 words or less (of course) and the winner would be picked around May 10th.  The Grand Prize would be their production crew spending a couple of days with the winners to film an episode for an upcoming show.  Ron and I put something together, revised it a couple of times and sent it in.  Well, today we were informed that Team Walleye has been selected for the Grand Prize, WOW!!!  The details are starting to gel and the film crew has already made reservations at Brindley's to spend a few days with us.  I will have more updates as things progress including a review of our experience and the show dates.  One thing is for certain, it's going to be and exciting weekend for Team Walleye.  Here is our winning essay penned by Ron:

Our opening fishing tradition will celebrate its 38th year on Leech Lake. Started in 1974 at Leech Lake with 4 high school friends, we have continued the same tradition every year since. My late father once told me “If you give it up once, you will never get it back” and he was right. Over the years our Leech Lake Opener has grown, evolved, and changed to maintain the excitement and anticipation of the Minnesota Walleye Opener. In 1978 we created a traveling trophy that has the names of each winner engraved. Akin to the Stanley Cup is showing its age, complete with its own nuances left by each holder.

Camping at various resorts on Leech, in 1982 we settled into Brindley’s Harbor Resort and 3 years later secured the much coveted Cabin 14. Our group expanded, including more family, friends, and 3 different resort owners. Fathers and kids joined the group, some have passed away and some of our kids, now in their 30’s are poised to carry on the tradition for well into the future. This year along with the original 4 will be 18 more with 5 cabins reserved. Over the years we have had 61 different guys being part of our group. In 1991 we adopted the name “Team Walleye” long before any others. Each opener every team member gets an official embroidered hat with our logo, magnetic signs for our cars, stickers, and each person bringing a boat for the group gets a commemorative T-shirt. Each member has their pre-assigned duties from KP to sleeping arrangements.

In early 2000 the walleye fishing on Leech Lake was in serious decline. At one time there was a waiting list to get a cabin at the resort however the decline caused everyone but “Team Walleye” to abandon Brindley’s and Leech. At its worse we were the only group at the resort that year. Paris,at Brindley’s expressed their appreciation for sticking with them however we explained that tradition and their friendship were more important than all the walleye in Minnesota.

This year’s opener includes the combined efforts 38 years in the making. We break our fishing into 6 sessions, 2 each day. Having developed a points system for scoring total fish caught, it helps to keep an accurate count of our fish in the freezer. On Sunday we have a draft, the guy with the lowest points gets to draft his boat for the next session. This allows members a fun way to mix up the group. We have a Sunday Night fish fry as both 2009 and 2010 have saw record catches of 390 and 370 walleyes over 12 inches. During the early years it was only about fishing. In 2011 it continues to be much more than catching fish or getting together, it’s about the memories, the future, and tradition.

It's a winner for sure.  A crazy week has just turned crazier.............I love it!!!  Lot's to do in a few days.


Duane said...

Now Dave, make sure you smile for the camera.....

Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service said...

I love AK but I sure do miss my dad and the walleye opener. I spend about 35 openers with my dad. Part of my opener routine was reading Ron Schara's Sunday column to see how well we did against the Schara clan. If I remember their fish fry usually consisted of roast beef hash (or was it spam?)and venison and very few walleyes....Don't get me started about reading the "True Fish Tales" in the Trib.

On Leech I predict shiner minnows either on a fireball jig or a live bait rig in 12-15 of water will do it. Good luck.

AK Keith