UPPER RED LAKE – Based on experience, Minnesota walleye anglers expect the season’s first day to be the angling equivalent of Armageddon, which Webster defines as “the site or time of a final and conclusive battle between the forces of good and evil.”
For the uninitiated, anglers are in this instance the force of good, and all things that conspire against them on the fishing opener, evil. This is especially true regarding the weather, which when walleyes become legal fare each year in May often hurls its whole kit and caboodle at wayfaring fisher persons young and old.
Rain, ice, snow, sleet, wind. The whole kit. And caboodle.
Saturday was different. When our bunch awoke at Paradise Resort on Moose Lake near Pennington, the eastern horizon bled oranges ranging from saffron to salamander to tangerine. The temperature was only 32 degrees. But the sky was clear and the morning windless, foretelling a day that, weatherwise at least, would be unlike most walleye openers.
We had elected to headquarter on Moose Lake, which is largely a crappie and largemouth bass lake with some walleyes, due to its proximity to some of the state’s best opening-day waters. Cass Lake is nearby. Winnie isn’t too far away. And Upper Red is about an hour up the road. Depending on the weather — wind, especially — we figured we could pick and choose which direction to head Saturday morning.
Being ambivalent sorts, we headed in two directions. Paul Kreutzfeldt of Stillwater and the four anglers with him — Larry Berndt, Corey Mogren, John Heroff and Pete Mogren — made a beeline for Upper Red, while Bob and Gina Kowalski of Vadnais Heights and their daughter, Lisa, joined Steve Vilks of Naples, Fla., Joe Hermes of Minneapolis, John Weyrauch of Stillwater and my son Cole and me on nearby Kitchi Lake.
Kitchi is connected to Cass Lake, and our belief was we might find some post-spawn walleyes hanging in either Kitchi or Cass or the waters connecting them. Which we did, a few. But by midmorning we were itchy on Kitchi and loaded the boats for Upper Red.
Others had the same plan.
When we arrived at West Wind Resort, hard by the shores of Upper Red, we had to get in line to launch our boat. The lake is extremely low this spring, and the public launch site on the Tamarac River is problematic. So private launches such as West Wind’s are in demand — so much so that even Department of Natural Resources conservation officers launched their boats at West Wind on Saturday, foregoing the public site on the river.
Those in the know around the resort said that by their standards, Saturday was not exceptionally busy. But anyone else seeing the mustering of pickups, boats and boat trailers that paraded en masse in all directions on land and water from the resort Saturday would have thought the entire state had been mobilized in an effort to catch anything and everything bearing fins and gills.
When we arrived at Upper Red about 11:30 a.m., the temperature was already 60 degrees. To the benefit of anglers, a slight haze had intermixed with an otherwise blue sky, and an uplifting breeze rippled the lake’s surface.
Amazingly, in a testament to Upper Red’s walleye-production proclivity, Kreutzfeldt and the other four anglers in his boat already had their 20-fish limit. (Upper Red’s walleye limit is four, with one allowed over 17 inches.)
“Prospects for walleyes would appear to be upbeat,” John said as we motored away from West Wind, where the launching process featured multiple resort staff directing the comings and goings of truck, boat and trailer rigs.
On the lake itself, thousands of anglers clustered perhaps a half-mile from shore in both directions from the resort, in water 8 feet to 12 feet deep. Some were jigging, others dragged Lindy Rigs or other live-bait presentations.
John, Cole and I probably could have caught fish within a few hundred yards of the resort entrance. But the three of us, like many anglers, ascribe to the theory that no fish ever swims where one is but rather only on the other side of a lake.
So it was that Cole powered up our boat’s outboard, lifting the craft on plane and angling us north by northwest. Ultimately, we joined a knot of anglers that appeared no different from the many knots of anglers we chose not to join.
Settling in, we dropped an anchor near where Kreutzfeldt, et al, had boated their walleyes.
An hour passed, give or take, and we had in our livewell a dozen specimens of Minnesota’s most prized fish, each fooled by eighth-ounce jigs baited with minnows swinging below slip bobbers.
So it was with most everyone who floated a boat on the opener on Upper Red.
Back at Paradise Resort that evening, we fried walleyes delicately beneath gauzy clouds near the crystalline waters of Moose Lake. In advance, John had smoked baby back pork ribs as an accoutrement, and Gina and Lisa had tossed a salad.
If this was Armageddon, chalk one up for the forces of good.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org