CRANE LAKE, MINN. - Saturday morning was not all that miserable, given standards long established for the Minnesota fishing opener. The temperature here was in the mid-30s and it wasn't even raining. Snow had been predicted, but that held off, and winds were inconsequential.
Sure, as the morning wore on, our fingers grew board stiff. And the wind bit at our faces like flying glass. But all together, a good day to angle.
Our bunch of about 20, most from in and around the Twin Cities, descended on Nelson's Resort on Crane Lake beginning at midafternoon Friday.
Having fished Upper Red Lake on the opener the past few seasons, we had sought a change of venue and could find none prettier than Crane Lake, hard by the Minnesota-Ontario border.
And, we would soon learn, we could find no lake with bigger walleyes to offer, either.
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Like many border waters, Crane Lake congregates its walleyes in spring where currents flow. None of these areas is better known or more productive on Crane Lake than the "Gorge," or the alleyway through which the Vermilion River spills into Crane.
It was the Gorge we descended upon after breakfast Saturday. Skies were gunboat gray, and summer seemed a long way distant. Still, the smell of combusted gasoline adrift on water only recently freed of ice confirmed to us a new season had begun, one of knots and jigs, sliding sinkers and live wells.
A new season of fishing in Minnesota.
We weren't too far into Saturday's outing when John Weyrauch, fishing in about 13 feet of water, hooked a walleye that doubled his graphite rod nearly parabolically.
"Geez," said his son, Jackson, reaching for a net.
The fish by then could be seen near the lake surface, its broad back giving it a submarinelike appearance.
"Twenty-five inches," John said moments later, after boating the walleye and putting a measuring stick to it.
About the same time, my son, Trevor, fooled a walleye of still larger dimensions -- it would tape more than 27 inches long and weigh 6.5 pounds.
This last fish was taken on a sliding sinker rig with a 6-foot-long snell and a chartreuse hook baited with a rainbow minnow.
John's and Trevor's fish were photographed and returned to the water. The Department of Natural Resources has slapped (and correctly so) a 17-28 inch protected walleye slot on the lake, requiring as much. But the fish would have been set free, anyway.
These big walleyes were far from the last our group caught Saturday on Crane Lake.
Jeff Kolstad of Stacy, Minn., fishing with us for the first time, tagged our group's biggest walleye, a behemoth measuring 29 inches. Jeff was fishing with longtime opener participant Paul Kreutsfeldt of Stillwater, and the six anglers in the Kolstad-Kreutsfeldt boat produced what seemed like an aquarium full of walleyes longer than 22 inches.
Additionally, my brother, Dick, owns a cabin on Crane Lake, and he and his son, Brian, spent a good while Saturday at the Gorge, too.
Brian earned his keep by boating a 27-inch walleye, one such fish of a handful he and his dad caught whose dimensions seemed otherwordly.
"Keeper" walleyes, by contrast, were somewhat more difficult to come by. And we needed a few to knife: Twenty people can consume a lot of walleyes, and we had planned a group fish fry Saturday evening.
LP tanks and deep fryers had been toted from the Twin Cities. Bob and Gina Kowalski of Vadnais Heights had been assigned salad-making duties And others of our group -- Steve Vilks, Jeff Knopps and Dave Kelley among them -- had been given culinary assignments of their own.
On a day when the weather never really changed much from sunrise to sunset, we accumulated dinner, one keeper walleye at a time.
We did this intermittent to boating and releasing memory-book walleyes many anglers don't see in their fishing lives.
Opening day for us ended where all Opening Days should. In a screen house, with knives drawn.
Though no warmer there than on the water, and beneath skies no clearer than those that had covered us at midday, the day nevertheless had unfolded pleasantly enough.
Walleyes have that effect on people, big ones in particular.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org