WEBSTER, S.D. | You know how it feels. A hook set into a good fish.
Your jig just stops. You lunge back on the rod. For a second, it’s a toss up. A snag or a fish? Then you feel the head shake.
There’s just no mistaking the take of a nice walleye.
And this was, indeed, a nice walleye.
The fish stayed down and I applied all the pressure I dared on the 6-pound-test monofilament. The fish was moving with our drifting boat and not taking line, but my 6-and-a-half foot rod was bent beyond my comfort level.
I backed off on the drag, and the fish took a run, the drag screaming in protest. It was a short run. A run like big walleyes make.
“Maybe it’s a northern,” Gary Howey said while looking through his video camera.
“No, it’s a walleye,” I answered. “A darn good one.”
Casey Weismantel, Aberdeen, S.D., stood ready with the landing net, but it would be awhile before it got wet.
We were fishing Reetz Lake, a trophy walleye lake just five miles south of Webster. The limit here is one fish over 28 inches. This one, I felt, would make that, but if we got her in, we wouldn’t be keeping her.
The fight went on, and I wasn’t gaining much. The fish kept making short runs, and I began to worry about the condition of the line.
Walleye teeth won’t cut monofilament, but when a big walleye makes a run, the line drags over the rough scales of its face and that can abrade your line. That’s how many big walleyes get away. The line gets nicks in it and then it breaks.
I backed off the drag a little more.
“Big walleye,” Casey said when the fish rolled.
It went down again and then came up and Casey had it safely in the net.
The hook of the quarter ounce, orange lead head had been carrying two female fathead minnows when the fish hit. The hook had opened up a bit with the pressure. I ran my fingers along the line from the eye of the jig to about eight inches up and it felt rough. I snapped it my hands like sewing thread.
The fish measured 27 1/2 inches. I had expected a bigger fish, given the fight, but when you hook a nice walleye in warm water, hang on.
I held her in the water for a while working her back and forth letting her recover. Then she was gone.
Casey works for the Aberdeen Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. Gary was filming a show for his Outdoorsmen Adventures television show promoting the area. The day before we had filmed several highlights in Aberdeen, including the spacious city campground and the Wylie Park - Storybook Land, a theme park inspired by Frank Baum who wrote Wizard of Oz and lived in Aberdeen for a few years.
But today, we were focusing on the fishing, for which the area is, literally, famous.
We only had one day, so the pressure was on.
I suggested Reetz Lake. I’d fished it before and always caught nice 18- to 20-inch walleyes. And since it is basically a catch-and-release lake, few walleye anglers care to go there.
The boat ramps at nearby Bitter Lake and others in the area were full of boat trailers. Bitter was kicking out large numbers of 14- to 15-inch walleyes but word was the bigger fish weren’t biting.
We were the only boat on Reetz. We drifted just outside the weed line trailing bottom bouncers, spinners and crawlers as well as jigs.
We caught several nice fish, 18 to 20 inches and had one that was 22. That size looks great in video. We left Reetz at noon and headed for Enemy Swim, just a few miles northwest of Webster.
It’s one of my favorite smallmouth bass lakes and I was confident we could put a 3 pounder in the boat. It also has nice bluegills and I knew just where to find them.
When we pulled into the boat ramp, my mouth fell open. It was filled with vehicles and boat trailers, many of them from Minnesota and Iowa.
The word was out on the bluegill fishing. Last winter was dynamite and this spring the bulls continued to bite. Gills up to 10 inches had been taken.
But the boats coming in reported poor fishing. A brisk south wind was making it tough, and the wind was getting stronger.
We made a couple runs for smallmouth but didn’t put anything worthwhile in the boat. My bluegill spot was catching the brunt of the wind and just wasn’t fishable.
We caught several small northern pike and some smallmouth up to 2 pounds when the wind began to subside. We worked the deeper water outside a large reed bed where I had caught bluegills and smallies before. Gary was pulling a bottom bouncer, spinner and crawler and I was trolling fat crank bait to tempt the smallmouth when we both had hits. Gary soon put a fat male bluegill in the boat and I followed with another bluegill, this one a female which had slammed the crank bait.
We had found the gills, but it was time to get back to Aberdeen. I plan to get back to Enemy Swim. Maybe this fall when the big brown bass go deep and really put on the feed bag. Of course, that’s when the big walleyes in Reetz Lake go on the prowl. I guess it will have to be a repeat.