Oh, what a difference a little wind can make on a walleye-fishing trip.
And we had a little wind on Belle Fourche Reservoir Monday as Rapid City outdoorsman Larry Mayes slow-motored the 16-foot Lund he owns with his twin brother, Terry, into about 20 feet of water near a promising stretch of shoreline.
We knew it was promising because the Mayes brothers had taken a quick drift — and Larry put an 18 3/4-inch walleye in the live well — just moments before Lori Walsh and I met them at the Rocky Point State Recreation Area boat ramp.
They like to be prepared, those guys, especially after accepting the challenge of getting a newbie her first-ever walleye.
To be clear, Lori is no newbie in life experience. She’s a former Marine, an experienced journalist, the able host of the live public-radio show In the Moment, and the mother of a daughter headed for Columbia University this fall.
But prior to Monday, her otherwise impressive resume didn’t include a single walleye-fishing experience. To fix that, we called on the Mayes brothers, their boat and their years of experience in fishing walleyes on Belle Fourche Reservoir.
They fish the reservoir regularly from the time they stop turkey hunting in the spring until they pick up their shotguns again in the fall. And like other experienced walleye hunters, they know that the wind is their friend, within reason, of course.
Wind ruffles the surface, providing walleyes and their sensitive eyes a better environment for feeding. It also initiates action in baitfish, which further inspires predator fish like walleyes to chow down. And it moves boats nicely.
With a “walleye chop” you can turn the boat broadside into the wind, cut the motor and drift along quietly with spinner rigs baited with nightcrawlers bouncing along the bottom at an enticing speed.
The Mayes boys prefer a breeze of about 15 mph, although a little less will work. And I’ve known them to fish in a much-stronger winds. We got a little wet that day, but caught walleyes.
Monday the wind was 12 or 14 mph when Larry shut down the reliable 40-horse Evinrude.
“This is just about right,” he proclaimed.
Terry, meanwhile, handed Lori a spinning outfit fixed up with a nightcrawler rig. Then he dropped his own line over the side and commenced to fish. But not for long.
“There’s one. It’s a good one,” Terry said, as his fishing rod dipped and danced. “Here, Lori, take it and reel.”
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It was a gift to a first-timer, just in case. You can lead someone to walleyes, after all, but you can’t make them catch fish. It’s mostly up to the fish. So Terry wanted to make sure Lori at least got to feel that electric resistance at line’s end.
And, oh my, how she loved cranking in that plump, 17-inch walleye, which had to be released because it fell into the protected “slot” for walleyes between 15 inches and 18 inches on the reservoir.
We celebrated. Lori posed for a picture. And we resumed fishing.
About five minutes later, Lori said softly: “I think I’ve got something going on.”
Indeed, she did. And this time she hooked it and reeled it in herself — her first walleye from bite to hand. And it measured 18 1/2-inches: a keeper!
“She’s a natural,” Terry proclaimed.
“We’re playing with house money now,” I said. “We can’t lose.”
Good thing, too. Because the wind died. The lake got flat. And fishing became work.
We moved around a bit, drifting sluggishly when we could. Terry put down the bow-mount electric motor and dragged us along at a slow troll.
Over a couple of hours, Terry caught a slot fish here. Larry caught another, and another. Lori caught another slot fish, then a 14-inch keeper. And she learned to net fish. And we were done.
Heading slowly back to the ramp, we proclaimed the day a grand success— for Lori, if not necessarily for everyone.
“Mr. Woster,” Larry said. “How many fish did you catch today?”
OK, let’s see. Not counting the three branches I hauled in (they were fighters!) I guess it was, uh, yeah, zero.
But while the others caught walleyes, I told stories. And that kind of wind is important to a fishing trip, too.