The outdoors has special meaning to me. I caught my first fish at age 4 and shot my first duck at age 9. Nearly four decades later I still get excited when I get to spend any time outdoors. A lot has changed during that time but the anticipation and experiences are still similar and just as exciting. It’s a great place to be....Read More

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Fish are funny and fickle.  But fortunately, they're also predictable.  Success is usually determined by figuring out what works and duplicating it over and over.  This repetition also leads to guesses of species and size, oftentimes long before the fish is ever seen, and sometimes delusions of grandeur.  The biggest are always the ones that get away before positive identification can be made.

Over the years I've become adept, like many anglers, at determining what species of fish just inhaled my jig-and-nightcrawler combination I use while walleye fishing.  Drum, white bass, wipers, channel catfish and walleye have distinctive ways they bite, and subsequently fight, giving away their species long before they get to the boat.

But this "sense" isn't an exact science.  Although it works MOST of the time, I'm occasionally wrong.  But rarely does a guess of giant drum or channel catfish turn into a monstrous walleye.  The opposite can happen and often does, particularly with channel catfish and even more so with flathead catfish.  Take for example one evening last week.

A buddy and I were catching plenty of walleye and the occasional fish big enough to make any angler "oohhh" and "aahhh" when it surfaced.  We were also catching lots of "others" so our predictions were never few and far between.  Most times they were spot on.

However, on one good tell-tale walleye "whack," I dropped my rod and gave the fish a moment to inhale the jig-and-nightcrawler.  On the hook-set the fish didn't budge much.

"This is a big 'eye," I told my buddy.  "Get the net!"

The slow, lethargic, side-to-side head shakes told me this was a BIG walleye.  And while I've caught quite a few walleye over 7 pounds, I've never cracked the 8-pound mark.  The fact this fish wasn't coming in quickly told me I might have a legitimate shot at a personal best, maybe even substantially larger.

I fought the fish for a couple minutes just knowing it was at least an 8 or 9 pound walleye.  All indications during the fight gave me no reason to doubt it.  I was already planning photos and figuring out who I would send them to marking this historic occasion. 

But at the first swirl of the big fish at the edge of the boat, with my buddy poised with the net like a Great Blue Heron about to strike and threatened with his life if he missed, reality reared it's ugly, whiskered head.  Another confirming glimpse of a forked tail and my dreams of a giant walleye were squashed.  

"Dang, man, it's a catfish!" I said in a response edited for print. 

And a channel catfish to boot.  I can honestly say I'm not generally fooled by channel catfish.  They often roll or spin at some point giving away their identity, particularly while drifting.  I am a sucker for flathead catfish as they don't do this and I've had run-ins with 5 pound flatheads that are sure-fire 10 pound walleye...until I see them.
Despite my disappointment, the 7-pound channel catfish joined some of his toothy, piscine friends in the livewell.  Disappointment was quickly replaced with good-natured ribbing but all was not lost. My buddy took the big cat home and it's likely he's already been served next to some French fries and Cole slaw. 

It was a great evening on the water.  We had a wonderful time and the walleye fishing was fantastic.  But I'm still looking for that 8-pound-plus 'eye.  Here's hoping next time it won't have whiskers!  


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