Crazy for Walleyes. By Babe Winkelman
Crazy for Walleyes.
By Babe Winkelman
I get the same question a lot: “Babe, what’s your favorite fish to catch?” My answer is always the same. I just smile and say “whatever is at the end of my line.” That answer is very honest, because I get as much kick out of catching a 13-inch crappie in Minnesota as I do from leaning back on a 150-pound sailfish in Costa Rica.
But if you really challenge me to name the exact species that’s nearest and dearest to my heart, I have to go with the wily walleye. Why? Wow, that’s a really good question. I’m sure it has something to do with growing up and living in the Midwest, where the walleye is the king of freshwater species.
If I had grown up in the south, Mr. Largemouth would probably take top billing. If I was a Great Lakes resident, then maybe the Steelhead would reign supreme. If I was a coastal Nordeaster, then perhaps a Striper would capture my heart. But I’m a Minnesotan and in Minnesota, walleyes rule.
Beyond regionality, I think there’s more to it than that. There’s just something about Stizostedion Vitereum (that would be Latin for walleye) that is especially special. Surely the walleye’s desirability on the table has something to do with it. They are Delicious with a capital D. No arguing that.
Is it because they exhibit heart-pounding strikes? Nope. They bite unseen in the depths. No violent and exciting surface blasts with a walleye. Is it because once hooked they fight with the power of a dozen fish? Nope. They pull fairly hard straight down, but really nothing to write home about. In shallow water, fighting horizontally, they’re fairly clueless and give up the struggle without too much argument. They don’t chase lures to the boat. They don’t tail-walk. They don’t make light-speed runs at the boat like a pike.
So what is it really that has me and so many other anglers fixated on walleyes? The answer lies not in the fish, but in the fisherman. We are intuitively competitive. We want a challenge. No, we don’t want one… we need one.
As anglers, we have fulfillments that need to be met. Food is one fulfillment, and we can fill that pretty easily with tasty and naïve panfish. Excitement is another fulfillment. An afternoon spent pulling buzzbaits in the slop for largemouth bass can fulfill that need. Casting spoons for aggressive pike can take care of that desire too. None of those fishing ventures are overly challenging though. For a true challenge, we turn to the marble-eyed amber beauty of the deep.
Walleyes are mysterious. Cautious. They routinely hug bottom as if they know someone above is searching for them with sonar. When a bait does come dancing past, they don’t pounce on it without thought. They scrutinize. They smell, look, touch and feel before committing to a bite. If you’re a walleye angler, how many times have you had a strike on a Lindy rig and crawler… a good strike…. only to set the hook and reel in a fishless hook with the nose of a nightcrawler still attached to the barb? Walleyes are uncanny for eluding their fate. That’s what hooks us as fishermen, and keeps us hooked forever.
So we take to the water time and time again, armed with our past walleye experiences and better prepared to not repeat our mistakes. We go to spots that produced fish the day before, only to find them dry. We find new spots where we never found walleyes before, only to find them inundated with fish. We scratch our heads, wonder what makes a walleye tick, and keep coming back for more.
To appreciate the magic of the magnificent walleye species, consider this. Two men go out fishing in the morning and come back at sunset. One is a bass fisherman in search of largemouth. The other is a walleye hunter. They come back and each is asked the same question: “How did it go today?”
The bass fisherman says “I only caught 20 today. It was terrible.”
The walleye fisherman says “I caught 7. It was a terrific day!”
That’s the reason walleyes will always hold a special place in the souls of men and women who are captivated by the art of catching them. They are as elusive as the aspirations of fishermen.