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Myers column: Ignoring the call of the great indoors to catch a walleye jackpot

ON LAKE OF THE WOODS -- I didn't need to go out ice fishing. I was just fine sitting in a comfy chair in the cabin, reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, draining a pot of coffee and stoking the wood stove.

A chunky, 18-inch walleye landed on a cold afternoon, part of a flurry of action — a jackpot of walleyes — that made it worthwhile to venture out even in a brutal wind chill. John Myers / jmyers@duluthnews.com
A chunky, 18-inch walleye landed on a cold afternoon, part of a flurry of action — a jackpot of walleyes — that made it worthwhile to venture out even in a brutal wind chill. John Myers / jmyers@duluthnews.com

ON LAKE OF THE WOODS - I didn't need to go out ice fishing. I was just fine sitting in a comfy chair in the cabin, reading the Bruce Springsteen autobiography, draining a pot of coffee and stoking the wood stove.

It was one of those cold days just before New Year's, 14 below zero outside as the sun came up, with a gusty south wind that promised warmer temperatures but hadn't yet delivered.

I walked the dogs. Twice. Hung out with the girls in the cabin. Snacked. Restrung some fishing reels. Read some more about The Boss. Snacked some more.

I was puttering to the point of procrastination. Truth be said, I don't like being cold. I like fishing, even through the ice, but I hate being cold. There, confession made. The outdoors writer is a wimp.

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Duluth-News-Tribune-January-2019-picture-4731750.jpg
John Myers.

But as the morning ran out of time, the lake, just outside the giant picture window, was beckoning too loudly to ignore. I got the urge. Now I had to go out. So I layered on the clothes, organized armfuls of gear, loaded up the Otter sled, warmed up the ancient Arctic Cat and went out into it. At the crack of noon-thirty.

I wasn't planning to go far, not in that wind chill, so I decided on a spot I'd fished two weeks earlier just a half-mile out. It had produced very well; keeper walleyes, small pike and jumbo perch out of the same holes. But I knew I would be fishing memories, a mortal sin amongst the hardcore angler set. I should have been going farther, to new spots. It was the lazy way out. This would definitely not be a trip I'd be writing about.

My technology is old, but the handheld GPS got me to the right spot. My 20-year-old auger (gasp, still gas-powered) cut through the foot of ice with ease. And then I fired up the flasher that has neither a camera nor sees out into space. It showed I was at the depth I wanted, about 17 feet. So up went the canvass (uninsulated) shelter and down went my butt on the bench seat.

I had already promised myself that I wasn't moving, no matter how slow the fishing was.

I was out of the wind. The Big Buddy heater was glowing. I rigged-up a glow pink and gold jigging spoon with a minnow head, charged it in a beam of sunshine coming in the window and dropped it in a hole. There is something about watching a lure drop on a flasher and the promise of what might be down there.

I was prepared to be bored, in a good way, as ice fishing can so often deliver. Our family had spent seven nights around Christmas celebrating in six different homes. It was time to do nothing and like it. I would have been fine if the fish had just left me alone to stare at the holiday colors on the Vexilar.

But they didn't. That first jig drop was bit by a 16-inch walleye. So I re-tipped, placed the rod in a holder and started rigging up a second rod. No time. Another walleye was on. Then a third. Then more.

I'm not sure how many fish I'd caught before I could get the second rod rigged. I was so busy I hadn't even made time to light my cigar.

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Many of the walleyes were small, 14-15 inches. But there were plenty of "keepers" from 16-17 inches as well, and one fat 18-incher, one of two walleyes we would eat for dinner that night. All the rest went back down the holes.

I didn't keep perfect count but I'm sure I reeled in more than 20 walleyes between 1 and 3 p.m. when the action started to slow down and I sat back to take a breath. I set the rods down but didn't put the lures down the hole. I texted my wife back at the cabin "fish for dinner" and took a break to soak in what had happened.

It wasn't the fastest fishing or the biggest fish I'd caught through the ice here. But it was darn good. And I didn't even have to step outside the shelter or drill more holes.

Several old adages were busted that cold day. The early bird can keep his worm, I'll go after noon, thank you. I'll fish memories, as long as they are good ones. And don't tell me pink is a girl's color. I'm sure some of the smaller walleyes were males.

It was a walleye jackpot, on a day that I almost spent indoors.

Sometimes, it all comes together, even when you don't expect it, even when you don't try that hard, even if you don't really deserve it.

But you do have to go out.

John Myers is the outdoors writer for the Duluth News Tribune.

Related Topics: FISHINGLAKE OF THE WOODS
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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