Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Advancing Storm System Triggers Walleye Rampage
“Man, you should have been here yesterday!”
Sooner or later, every angler will become acquainted that sad statement. You know the story. You’ve just arrived at your favorite fishing water where everyone in the bait shop is absolutely raving about the vicious, no holds barred walleye feeding frenzy that occurred in this very spot – – – yesterday.
Today will prove to be an entirely different story, of course. Following three solid hours of frothing the water with everything your tackle box has to offer; you finally surrender and head for the nearest hamburger stand – humbled, defeated and empty handed.
But there are those rare – and I do mean rare — occasions where you do manage to find yourself in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. That’s the precise circumstance I found myself in on Clear Lake last Wednesday.
By the time daybreak arrived, Doppler radar was showing a significant low pressure system rapidly marching its way toward Cerro Gordo county. The radar map displayed a dazzling array of green and yellow, further illustrating the system’s weather changing potential. It didn’t take a professional fishing guide or trained meteorologist to determine that a ‘Perfect Storm’ was brewing or that a major barometric change was about to send Clear Lake walleye populations into a serious feeding binge.
Grabbing an ultralight fishing rod and a couple dozen minnows, I lost no time in getting to the water. Off to the southwest, the sky was turning an ominous shade of black and the faint rumble of distant thunder could already be heard. The early morning air was becoming moist and heavy; you could literally feel the fishiness.
Results were immediate and it only took a minute to determine that schooling walleyes weren’t waiting for me, but had already begun their weather induced rampage. After tying on a 1/16th ounce jig head and attaching a large fathead minnow, I hooked my first fish on the third cast. From that moment on, it was Katie Bar the Door. Completely surrounded by ravenous marble-eyed predators, I had entered Angling Paradise. Stacked in less than five feet of water, fish were feeding as if their very lives depended on finding a quick meal. The bite was unbelievable; like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. Complete reckless mayhem. Three or four short casts was usually the longest delay between hits. On more than one occasion, I’d unhook one fish only to catch another as quickly as the jig reentered the water. The level of aggression matched the frequency of the hits. Walleyes weren’t merely hitting my baits; they were slamming them! Although I went through the motions of setting the hook, the tactic wasn’t necessary. The heart pounding, shallow water strikes were so intense — so lightning fast — that the walleyes were hooking themselves. I only had two strikes that didn‘t result in landing the fish.
The meltdown continued — unabated — for the better part of an hour and I quickly lost count of the fish. Size ratios were outstanding with nearly half of the walleyes measuring above the legal 14-inch mark. Legal keepers averaged just over 16 inches; the largest fish went a hefty 19 ½.
The skies grew darker; the thunder moved closer. The wind increased and it soon began to rain. Within seconds, I was soaking wet. Undaunted by the front’s dramatic arrival, the frenzy continued with undiminished ferocity. And then suddenly it was over. Wet, chilled, and happy, I headed for home — taking three fat walleyes and some bonus yellow perch for the skillet.
To say that my hometown fishing adventure had been ‘phenomenal’ or ‘terrific’ would be to grossly understate the obvious. Although I can’t think of a perfect description, ‘surreal’ would probably come as close as any. In more than fifty years of fishing on Clear Lake; I’ve never had an outing that even comes close to comparing to this early morning walleye rampage.
lthough I never miss an opportunity to dine on fresh walleye, I don’t think fish ever tasted better than when I dug into those tender golden fillets the following evening. As I reflected on the incredible hour of extreme fishing I’d enjoyed the day before, the thought suddenly struck me and I couldn’t help but smile. At long last, my time had come. For the first time in my life, I could finally walk up to the crew assembled at the bait tank and say with a grin — “Man, you guys should have been here yesterday”.