Dennis Anderson: The walleye waltz along the Ontario border

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2012 - 12:42 AM

The fishing opener is always special, but the occasion is helped when the fish are plentiful and biting.

CRANE LAKE, MINN. — Woe be to the angler who couldn't appreciate early Saturday morning here on the Minnesota-Ontario border. Chilly, yes -- 29 degrees when we woke up. But the air bore a springtime translucence that highlighted a cloudless blue sky, and the shoreline's red and white pines almost shimmered in their deep greens. Had not our bunch detected even a passing tug of a walleye the entire day, the outing would have been worthwhile.

As luck would have it -- and luck counts a bunch in fishing -- Crane Lake's walleyes did their part, and showed up on this first day of spring and summer inland angling in Minnesota. The bite didn't suggest hunger bordering on starvation for Minnesota's state fish. But it was there for the taking for those who passed the day on the water, especially those who moved their boats slowly, and with them, their baits.

Which was a good thing, these willing walleyes, because come Saturday night, we had some 25 mouths to feed. Figured at two fillets apiece, the fish needed by day's end ranged upward of 25.

To fill this quota, rise early and fish late was our mantra. Either that or dine more formally in the fine restaurant of Nelson's Resort on Crane Lake, where we headquartered.

In our boat, I was first to notch a keeper walleye. Its flanks stained bright gold and its topside mottled black and brown, the fish hit a Lindy-style rig so softly I thought perhaps the "bump" was no more than my sliding sinker encountering any of the countless rocks that litter the bottoms of so many border lakes.

Hopeful nonetheless, I free-spooled my line, feeding it less so to a fish that might have inhaled my minnow than to my imagination. It had been a long winter, after all. Now I wanted this whatever it was to pull enthusiastically when I set the hook.

Which it did.

"Get the net."

In the boat with me was my wife, Jan, and our son, Cole. Jan hasn't made a fishing opener in a few years, because of other commitments. But 20 years ago, we were married on the opener, timing that some fishermen might see as a plus, others a minus. The nuptials occurred in Ely, on an island. The minister was Lutheran and the check didn't bounce, both good tidings for newlyweds. Of course by now, much of it seems a blur. I do recall that the fishing was outstanding on White Iron Lake, with limits of walleyes for almost the entire wedding party. Anyway, fast-forwarding to Saturday, when I said, "Get the net," the only one to make a move for the old long handle was Cole. Perhaps had I framed it more as a suggestion, I night have gotten some movement out of Jan. But there you have it, marriage past and present. The fish was soon in the boat.

Not far away, my brother, Dick; his son, Brian; and a pal of Brian's, Justin Kranz, also glided atop Crane Lake's glasslike morning surface, pulled by their bow-mounted electric trolling motor.

By then, the sun was well up, and a pair of mergansers swam not far away. Also, seagulls croaked overhead, already on our case, wanting discarded minnows. On this day, each of us deployed rainbows into the cold water because the shiners we found Friday at bait shops en route north were nearly as big as perch, minnows on steroids.

"Better to use smaller than bigger," Dick had suggested, and correctly.

Dick and his wife, Patti, have a cabin on Crane Lake, which they fish often. And nearly wherever they went Saturday, and Brian and Justin with them, they caught walleyes.

Yet theirs weren't the only spots that contributed to the evening's fish fry.

Paul Kreutzveldt and three others fished together in one boat, and they had limits, or near limits, of walleyes by midmorning, finding them in only 5 feet of water.

Similarly, Jeff Knopps and three buddies found willing walleyes in various places, and at various depths.

So it went, and come evening, in the screen house not far from our cabins, where the fish cleaning is done at Nelson's Resort, chattering still carried through the chilled air.

Bent over sharp knives were guys with sunburned cheeks, telltale not only of how they had spent their days but of what they had dreamed about in recent weeks and months: open water, hot bites and friend in a boat.

In Minnesota, after a fashion, the fishing opener is everyone's anniversary. Looking at it that way, and knowing that my buddy Weyrauch didn't get Kreutzveldt a gift, nor he Knopps or Kowalski, I figured that, late Saturday evening, after everyone had displaced themselves to their cabins, I could reveal to my wife of 20 years that due to my busy schedule, etc., etc., and worried as I am about Greece defaulting, and other worldly concerns I have, and stressing that simple forgetfulness should never warrant recrimination, particularly not as one ages, and anyway in light of all of this, I want to just go ahead and say outright that I too bear no gift or card, recognizing as I do the sort of mass equanimity of the day's festivities, this being the fishing opener and all, and so, well, Happy Anniversary to Everyone!

It's the one card I held, and I'd have to play it.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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