CRANE LAKE, Minn. – Given the rain and snow that slanted sideways in this part of northern Minnesota on Friday, Saturday’s emergence as a promising day to begin the state’s fishing season seemed unlikely. But there it was at dawn Saturday, a clear sky, with breezes too gentle to ruffle even the needles of the red and white pines that bracket the shorelines of this stunningly beautiful border lake. All who awakened here took note of the weather change, and were thankful.
We had gathered for walleyes, a brave bunch of us who had ignored saner voices warning that the state’s northernmost waters would be ice-covered on opening day.
And some waters were largely still frozen, Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods among them, as well as certain lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
But Crane had unshackled itself of winter at midweek, setting the stage for visitors on Saturday who wanted to open their cabins, catch a meal of fresh walleye, or simply kick back and forget the world’s grander concerns.
Common to each was a desire to gather anew atop Quetico-Superior’s clear blue waters and hear again the soft tremolo of loons, while wetting a line.
“Ready to head out?’’ John Weyrauch asked.
This was just after 7 Saturday morning, and we were at the dock of Nelson’s Resort, our weekend headquarters.
I hadn’t slept well, and had been up for hours. Now, finally, we were going to try our luck.
In our bunch, gathered in three craft, were John and his wife, Jodi, of Stillwater, as well as Tom and Nancy Ellsworth of Excelsior. Also along were Joe Hermes of Minneapolis, Joe Sperber of Stillwater and Steve Vilks of Naples, Fla.
Turning the key on my boat’s dashboard, I heard the outboard that hung astern crackle to life.
Just like that, summer was off and running.
In our little flotilla, John and Jodi commanded one boat, the two Joes and Steve another, and Tom and Nancy fished with me.
The Gorge would be our first stop, the name given to the grand spillway that awaits the Vermilion River as it empties into Crane Lake.
Always popular on opening day, the Gorge invites both expert and novice anglers, and often treats them equally.
Ultimately, the number of fish caught there depends on whether it holds sizable numbers of pre-spawn or post-spawn walleyes. Most years the latter are fairly evident and hanging around, at least for a few days.
But some years the spawn occurs early and the fish are gone. And even if they are present, they can be fickle, and bite or don’t for reasons unknown.
“If you and Nancy are going to use Lindy Rigs, I’ll use a jig,’’ I said to Tom.