Love and the Minnesota Opener

It is the opener of Minnesota’s fishing season. My fishing buddy Dennis Virden and I aren’t fishing. Instead, he and his wife Kathryn and my wife Becky and I are sitting in church, watching our fishing buddy, Ryan Blodgett get married. Ryan married Melissa Peterson at a church in Wayzata, Minn. The ceremony was wonderful and the bride and groom looked radiant. Later that afternoon we went to the reception and met Ryan’s and Melissa’s families and mingled before dinner.

It was a wonderful day and a very nice wedding, but we had places to be the next morning.

Although we missed Saturday, the first day of the new walleye-fishing season, Dennis, Ryan and I felt we just merely delayed our first fishing trip. So, the next morning Ryan and Melissa left for their honeymoon while Dennis and I drove north to Cut Foot Sioux, a lake in northern Minnesota. Dennis is member of Drakes Hideaway, a fish camp overlooking the lake. Fishermen have gathered there for over 50 years for the season opener. I’ve been part of this tradition for a dozen years.

We met the usual “cast of characters” when we finally arrived. The others had fished the day before on the opener, and their reports were less than encouraging. Fishing had been slow with few fish caught, and they said we didn’t miss anything by being at the wedding.

But Dennis and I had to check it out for ourselves. We went to several spots on Cut Foot Sioux where we caught fish on previous openers. The weather was nice with sunny skies and light winds. We did catch some fish, so technically we weren’t skunked, but they were northern pike and perch. Only walleyes count, so those fish are “dismissed” at Drakes Hideaway.

Dennis and I left the next morning for Leech Lake. Dennis knew several spots there and it certainly didn’t look like we could do any worse than the afternoon and evening before. It was sunny and mild, but seemed a big cooler. We drifted over an underwater hump, tossing and drifting jigs and minnows. Our most productive depths seemed to be between 7 and 12 feet. Most of our fish hit as we started to drift off the hump. We picked up three walleyes and a few more northerns and perch.

The next morning, we discussed our options. Cut Foot Sioux was a bust and Leech Lake had been a bit better, but we needed to catch more if we wanted to have a fish fry that evening. We decided a road trip to Red Lake was in order.

When we arrived a stiff, chilly breeze was present, but it was sunny. We anchored in about 5 to 7 feet. Dennis and I were in one boat while a few others anchored their boat about 50 feet away. Soon, we were getting a number of strikes, but we seemed to have problems setting the hook. We missed several fish before Dennis caught the first walleye. A few minutes later, my freind Jeremiah caught a walleye. It was his first walleye ever, so it was a great moment.

The fishing picked up from there as I was vertically jigging. And although I got strikes, I was missing most of my fish. Dennis was slowly dragging his jig along the bottom, which seemed to work best. I heard Dennis yell he had a fish and I looked out the front of the boat and saw a big one swirling just below the surface. I instantly grabbed the net. The fish was a 21-inch walleye that was later released. On the next cast, Dennis yelled he had another fish, but this time it was small enough to fit under the slot limit and went into our livewell.

By the time we motored back to the landing we had caught 13 walleyes. Back at Drakes Hideaway, I cleaned the fish and taught Jeremiah how to fillet a walleye. Jeremiah cleaned the last fish.

That evening, I rolled the fish in breading and deep-fried them while Dennis cut up potatoes and onions, frying them in butter. It was a feast, as the last of the sun disappeared in the forest behind us and shadows crept across the ground surrounding the cabin.

It had all started with a wedding and ended with a fish fry. It was a great way to start the season opener.