TOWER, Minn. – With a lively campfire cradled in a jumble of rocks at the very edge of Lake Vermilion, Nick Beaudette and Moose Hultman opened their fishing season just minutes after the stroke of midnight on Hoodoo Point.
Angling for walleyes from a dark, wooded shoreline where they also had pitched a tent, the two teenagers from Eveleth High School were joined by friends Alex Haas and Cooper Mattson to carry out a hopeful plan.
“We’ll try and catch our limit now so we can sleep in,” Beaudette said. “That’s the idea.”
By tradition, they were visiting the city-owned campground with groups of parents who shared food, drink and conversation well into the night at campsites festooned with Christmas lights and warmed by campfires. With nearly 70 reservable campsites to fill, Hoodoo Point Campground on the eastern half of Lake Vermilion is well known in the region as a place where families can revel in opening day with or without a boat.
“Last year we went home empty-handed, but some years the fishing is pretty good,” said Coleen Hofsomer of Aurora.
She and her husband, Jim, were visiting with friends and relatives at 12:30 a.m., reliving a moment from last year’s trip when Jim caught a 40-inch muskie on his last cast from shore before breaking camp.
“Who catches a big muskie like that from shore?” he said.
In the same cluster of pop-up trailers and fifth-wheel trailers, Mark Lindhorst of Gilbert rigged his fishing line with a glowing bobber and cast it into the lake baited with a hook and minnow.
“We’ll throw our bobbers out there and see what happens,” Lindhorst said.
By 7:30 a.m. under bright blue skies and a flat calm lake, Lindhorst was fishing again. He caught two small walleyes in the darkness, he said, but nothing was biting in the light of day. With frost covering some boat seats early in the morning, Pike Bay quickly filled with more than 120 fishing boats.
Our own party of four was headed by our skipper, Scott Ward of Inver Grove Heights; my 10-year-old son, Joe; and Virginia native David Whitescarver, who was trying his hand at walleye fishing for the first time.
Unlike last year in these same waters when the air was warm and the bite was hot, the early morning bite Saturday was slow and almost nonexistent. The air temperature was a crisp 29 degrees, but boaters around us were in good spirits. The feel-good vibe had a lot to do with the day’s bluebird skies and a late but successful ice-out. Vermilion’s Big Bay finally melted Wednesday after threatening to crimp boat traffic.
Remnant cold-water temperatures below 50 degrees are expected to stifle fishing on the big part of the lake for at least a week.
“I’m frozen, but I’m glad the lake’s not!” one woman said from a fishing boat that trolled past us, pulling crankbaits or Lindy Rigs.
We spent most of the morning jigging with shiner minnows and rainbow minnows in 3 to 8 feet of water around Hoodoo Point and nearby Whiskey Island. The anglers on Hoodoo’s shoreline weren’t shoulder-to-shoulder like they were last year. But that might have been due to the early tough luck. Word spreads fast on the point when the walleyes are biting.
It wasn’t until after lunch that David and Joe hooked a couple of keepers to lift the spirits in our own crew. Scott maneuvered the boat into a 12-foot hole of water near the mouth of the Pike River, which dumps into the south end of Pike Bay. Within an hour, the lid to the live well was being lifted to make room for more and more fish — all smaller than the 20- to 26-inch protected slot range under Vermilion’s special walleye management regulations. The exception was a nice 22-inch walleye caught and released by Scott late in the afternoon while dropping a fire-colored jig.
Jeremy Maslowski, a veteran angler on Vermilion, said his crew had more luck on Saturday morning trolling crankbaits than they did using jigs and minnows. By midafternoon, his group had enough keepers to fish areas of the lake with less congestion than Pike Bay.
On Hoodoo Point, we looked on Saturday morning to no avail for the group of friends from Eveleth High School. The four teens are avid fishermen, and they say there isn’t a body of water within a 45-mile radius of Eveleth that they haven’t fished before. This summer, they hope to be on the water or fishing from shore on at least 60 occasions.
Eating Oreo cookies and drinking soda at 12:30 in the morning on Opening Day seemed to count as a win, whether or not they caught fish.
“Just to cast and sit. It’s kind of nice,” Beaudette said. “It’s nice to be out.”