It happens the same way every year. Sometime around Memorial Day I take a hiatus from fishing to plant the gardens and get the yard in shape for summer. The tasks associated with these enterprises are many and the month of June seems to slip away while I toil in the dirt. Then one day I realize it’s been a while since I’ve gone fishing.
This usually occurs about the time it starts to rain. Mid-June on the North Shore is nearly always gray and wet for days on end. Perhaps the gloomy weather keeps me out of the garden and triggers thoughts of fishing. At any rate, mild panic sets in. Suddenly, I must go fishing.
A quiet lake where the walleyes bite at sundown is my destination. Heading out after supper, I slide the canoe into the lake as the sun sinks toward the black spruce along the western shore. Rarely do I have company, other than the dog. On some nights, there isn’t another boat on the lake.
My canoe is equipped with a rowing rig and pontoon stabilizers, making it quick, safe and quiet for solo fishing. My livewell is a five-gallon bucket. My electronics are nonexistent. My tackle is a handful of jigs and some lively leeches. This is simple, unsophisticated fishing—the best kind.
Northwoods walleyes are predictable. They get hungry in the evening and move into the shoreline shallows to feed. I like to start casting just as this evening ritual begins. Hop a jig tipped with a leech across the bottom and a feeding walleye will pick it up.
The walleyes aren’t everywhere along the shoreline, but I know some places where they consistently appear. Drifting silently along the shoreline, I make searching casts, dragging a leech across the rocky bottom. On good evening, it doesn’t take long to find a biter. Feeling the familiar tap-tap on the rod tip, I’ll ease up, give the fish a few seconds to take the leech and then set the hook.
What happens next is rarely dramatic, because eating-sized walleyes are not difficult to subdue. I like to reel them to the surface and, with a smooth motion, lift them into the canoe. Then into the bucket they go. While some, perhaps many, may beg to differ, walleyes are essentially panfish. We fish for them because they are good to eat, but that doesn’t make catching them any less fun.
Usually, the action starts slowly as the first hungry fish come into the shallows. I’ll make a lot of casts, but only catch a walleye or two. Sometimes I get frustrated and move to another location, but it may not matter. When the magic time arrives, so do the walleyes. At midsummer, the sun hesitates on the western horizon as though unwilling to set. Time seems to slow to a crawl, as though the north country is trying to make the most of the longest days of the year. Suddenly, the walleyes start to bite.
What is likely happening beneath the water’s surface is the walleyes, individually and in small schools, enter the shallows where I’m fishing. On a good night, I’ll get a bite on nearly every cast for 20 minutes or so. This is good, clean, workmanlike fun. You have to quickly unhook the walleyes, rebait and get your line back in the water to make the most of this window of opportunity.
The action often ends as abruptly as if someone turned a switch. You make one cast and then another without getting a bite. Sometimes, you can cast among the shoreline rocks and catch one or two more. But the magic moment is gone.
But on a midsummer evening, the magic is more than walleyes. Alone with the dog on the lake the other night, I heard splashing along a distant shore. Looking toward the sound, I spotted a cow and calf moose sloshing through the shallows. The dog saw them, too. Although they were more than 200 yards away, it was so quiet I could hear the clatter of hoof steps on the cobblestones. I went back to my fishing, but the dog intently watched the moose until they disappeared into the woods.
A couple of walleyes short of a limit, I kept casting in the fading twilight after the magic time passed. Reluctantly, I eventually reeled in and rowed back to the landing. As the canoe touched the shore my wristwatch beeped, marking the 10 o’clock hour. I was surprised, because there was still enough daylight to load up the canoe.
Long summer evenings are meant to be savored outdoors, because soon enough they’ll be gone. In coming weeks, I’ll try to enjoy as many of them as possible, knowing that by early August, autumn is in the air. Some will be spent fishing for walleyes, other will be spent fly-casting for trout. But the fishing, though good, isn’t the real reason I’m out there. It’s the magic of midsummer that I seek.
Airdate: June 24, 2010