The Walleye Experience

     Last Saturday I got the call I've been waiting for all ice season.  A buddy wanted to know if I was interested in chasing some river walleyes below the Prairie Du Sac dam.  I'm always game for some fishing, especially since I have had about enough of the frozen water all over Madison, WI.  I was fired up and super excited to cast into open water.  I must admit though that I have no idea how to catch walleyes.  Every walleye I have ever caught has been an accident.
       The next morning I woke up early, started a pot of coffee, and began rigging my rods, well actually rod, I had no idea what I needed to be bringing.  I did however have my Plano tray of Echotails and everyone I know talks about how good blade baits are for walleyes.  I loaded everything into my backpack and got on my Ice Armor as I waited for Mark to arrive.
     So for those of you haven't had the pleasure of meeting him, Mark is the classic outdoorsman.  He hunts for everything, fishes for everything, and owns just about everything.  In fact he's the guy I most commonly turn to when I have a question about the great outdoors.  Mark's been in the Air Force, hunted elk, fished for trout, he even serves as the gear manager for my sons Boy Scout Troop.  One of my favorite things about Mark is that you never truly know what he has in mind.  So while I was looking out the window waiting for him to pull up with his 16 foot Deep V, I saw this...
     When I asked where his boat was he casually replied, "I heard that some people had recently damaged their boats up by the dam so I thought this made more sense."  Sounds good to me I thought, after all I fish from a kayak.  "Heads up, it has a crack so it takes on a little water."  Now we're talking, I love an adventure.  We shoved off from the launch and started up river towards the dam.  The first thing I noticed was the water in the bottom of the boat.  Mark assured me that we'd be fine as I dropped the anchor overboard.  Once we were settled I tied on an Echotail and made my first cast.  As soon as it hit the water I was snagged and had to break it off.  Next I casted off the other side of the boat and sure enough, snagged again.  I had just lost 2 Tommy Harris edition Echotails in successive casts.  This was starting to get EXPENSIVE.  I needed another game plan before I ran out of tackle.  I tied on a darter head jig and added a gizzard soft plastic from Bog Baits.  A few bounces off the bottom and bam, I had caught my first ever sauger.
     Now this was my kind of fishing, I love it when I get to add a new species to my list.  Not gonna lie though, I had to ask Mark what I had caught.  I have only fished in rivers a handful of times and I thought is was just a brown walleye.  A few casts later and Mark said he wanted to try another spot.  As he was reeling in his line suddenly the rod tip started bouncing and sure enough he was hooked into his first sauger of the day too.
     It was about this time that Mark let me know that we needed to beach the little jon boat and let the water drain out.  At first I thought he was kidding, but when I saw the look of concern in his eyes I knew he was serious.  We idled over to a sandbar and drug the boat out of the water and pulled the drain plug.  I had no idea that much water was in the bottom of the boat.  Sure I noticed that the boat was a little bit, "Splashy," but I didn't think it was that bad until I saw all the water was in the back end.  After a couple minutes the water was gone and we headed down current a ways to try our luck in a more fishy spot.
     Mark was watching his graph and said he was trying to find a spot where the gravel meets the sand.  He said that the walleyes would be hanging out around that transition.  I had to trust him since I'm no river angler and once he was happy with the location I again dropped the anchor over the side of the aluminum hull.  The fishing was slow to say the least.  It was also really cold!  The wind was whipping up river and that made all of our extremities go numb damn near instantly.  It's a struggle to do the simplest things when you get that cold.  Still we continued casting, hoping for that walleye that would make the whole trip worth it.  Then out of nowhere, Marks rod violently doubled over.  He jumped to his feet shaking the boat as he fought the fish.  "It's a good one grab the net!" he hollered.  I started for the net when I heard him begin to laugh, "Sheepshead."  Sure enough he had foul hooked a sheepshead, or freshwater drum.
     We both started to laugh as he swung it over the side.  "Why do these things always end up foul hooked?" I thought to myself.  Seriously, I have never seen one caught in the mouth.  Even when I sight fish for them on the fly on Lake Mendota they end up foul hooked.  I'll fire out a cast, watch the fish eat, strip set the fly, and end up with the fish next to it hooked in the side.  It's mind boggling how many times I've heard someone say, "Dang, it's a foul hooked sheepshead."  Anyways...back on topic, we were freezing.  We started that thing you do when you start to rationalize leaving early.  I was all, "Would be nice to get an early start on the preparing the kayak for Canoecopia."  And then Mark was like, "Wouldn't hurt to get the laundry started and maybe take a nap."  Then like magic, something hit my jig.  After a quick little fight we had it in the boat.  It was a little walleye, just under eating size.  Which was fine because I don't eat fish anyways.  Still I could now say that I went walleye fishing on purpose and had actually caught a walleye.
     All in all I had a great time, especially after the feeling in my toes came back.  I love new experiences and this one was great.  The Wisconsin River is one of those bodies of water that is close to home, but that I have rarely fished.  We've already made plans to go back up in a few weeks.  Everybody that I've talked to has said that once it warms up a bit the fishing really improves.  Sounds good to me, at least the part about it warming up.
     Tight Lines.

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