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Northland anglers find success at Island Lake bridge

ISLAND LAKE BRIDGE -- What a difference four days makes. Austin Driscoll and Ashley Bender basked in 85-degree sunshine at the Island Lake bridge on Wednesday afternoon. Driscoll was fishing for walleyes from the gravel apron beneath the bridge. ...

Austin Driscoll and 25-inch walleye
Austin Driscoll of Duluth holds the 25-inch walleye he caught and released on Sunday at the Island Lake bridge north of Duluth. He was back there on Wednesday, fishing for walleyes again. (Austin Driscoll photo)

ISLAND LAKE BRIDGE -- What a difference four days makes.

Austin Driscoll and Ashley Bender basked in 85-degree sunshine at the Island Lake bridge on Wednesday afternoon. Driscoll was fishing for walleyes from the gravel apron beneath the bridge.

He had been camping and fishing there the previous weekend, on the Minnesota fishing opener, with 35-degree temperatures and 35-mph winds. To say nothing of the ice floes drifting through.

"Saturday was pretty much non-existent because of the wind and the icebergs," Driscoll said. "One of the icebergs caught my line and emptied my spool."

Sunday was somewhat better, when Driscoll kept three walleyes about 17 inches long and released a 25-incher. Plus, his friend Chris Boman of Duluth caught a muskie that stretched from his hip to the ground, Driscoll said.

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But Wednesday was even better, at least weather-wise. It felt like July, but broad sheets of black and rotting ice still covered large portions of the lake, especially on the west side.

A half-dozen anglers fished from the bridge itself or from the gravel below. The sky was making puffy summer clouds.

Bender relaxed in a canvas chair, and Driscoll had one ready. There was a cooler between them. Life was good.

The bridge and the channel beneath it separate the east and west portions of Island Lake. It's a good spot to catch walleyes early in the summer.

Matt Baer of Duluth was jigging a minnow from up on the bridge, dangling his offering in the tannin-stained water below. He fishes at the bridge often.

"I fish it for about a month," Baer said, "until the fish stop biting. It's pretty good in the spring. I've been fishing here for 10 years."

Tuesday had been good for walleyes, he said, from 5 to 8 p.m.

"We caught 25 and kept 10 from 13 to 17 inches," Baer said.

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He, too, had been there for the Minnesota opener the previous weekend.

"It was cold," he said.

On Wednesday, Baer was fishing with his friend Matt Marciniak of Duluth.

Island Lake isn't known for its big walleyes, but if you fish there long enough, you're apt to find one.

"We caught a 7-pounder here one time," Baer said.

His brother, Nick Baer, had caught it.

The most common Island Lake walleye runs about 10 to 12 inches long, Baer said. He'll keep them if they're 13 inches or longer.

He owns a boat, and a friend has a boat, too. But it's quick and easy to run up to the bridge and plop a minnow in the water. No boat to launch. And a boat would have been a liability on Wednesday, with all of the ice remaining.

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Bridge fishing does have logistical issues. Smaller fish can be hoisted straight up through mid-air and swung onto the bridge. But with bigger walleyes, 17 inches or more, Baer walks down the bridge walkway, hops over the guard rail, clambers down the bank and beaches his fish on the gravel below.

A social affair, bridge fishing requires some give and take among anglers fishing in close quarters. Anglers work together to untangle crossed lines. They admire each other's catches.

Baer felt something take his minnow and quickly raised his rod to set the hook. Fish on. Up through the rust-colored water, up through 10 feet of sunshine and fresh air, came a perch about 10 inches long.

Not what Baer was hoping for.

He extracted his jig and nonchalantly tossed the perch over the railing. In the afternoon sun, it made the long free-fall, hit the water and headed for the depths. Baer baited up and had his jig in the water within seconds.

Maybe there was a walleye where the perch had come from.

Matt Baer's perch
Matt Baer of Duluth hoists a perch up to the Island Lake bridge on Wednesday afternoon. Baer fishes at the bridge often and has good luck catching walleyes there. (Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com)

Related Topics: FISHING
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