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Picture perfect opener

Lake Vermilion was off to a good start this past weekend, even if I wasn’t

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/16/19

LAKE VERMILION— Catching the first fish isn’t always the lucky charm you might think it is. At least that’s how it worked out for me last Saturday.

It looked, otherwise, like the perfect …

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Picture perfect opener

Lake Vermilion was off to a good start this past weekend, even if I wasn’t

Posted

LAKE VERMILION— Catching the first fish isn’t always the lucky charm you might think it is. At least that’s how it worked out for me last Saturday.

It looked, otherwise, like the perfect start to the 2019 fishing opener. I was out with my friend and Vermilion fishing guide Rob Bryers and his lady friend Nicole and we had gotten a leisurely start, pushing off from his Birch Point dock about 7:30 in the morning. It was milder and sunnier than the forecast had suggested, and it looked like a great day to be out on the water.

We first hit the tip of the point, which always gathers a fair number of anglers in the early season. This year was no exception, as about 15 boats were bobbing around in the light chop. We were on the north side of the point, largely protected from the stiffening south breeze that was kicking up bigger waves out on Big Bay.

Rob handed me a rod and a minnow from the bait box he lords over like it holds gold bullion and I was first in the water as he got Nicole, who goes by Nikki, rigged up before grabbing his own rod.

He had just dropped his line when I felt the telltale tug of a walleye and we quickly had our first fish in the live well. Rob hates it when I catch the first fish. Actually, when we go out, he prefers to catch the first, last, and most of the fish in between. And here he was falling behind early— in front of Nikki no less.

It didn’t help that Nikki caught the next one, a small walleye that she quickly released. In the meantime, we watched a few of the other boats pulling in the occasional fish, including one nice slot fish that was the subject of the obligatory photosbefore being slipped back into the water.

As for us, the action (such as it was) had slowed, so we checked out a spot on the south shore of Pine Island but picked up nothing but snags. We zipped around to another spot on the north side of Pine Island, without success there, either. By this time, I could tell Rob was feeling the pressure from our slow start. “Boy, I’m going to hate to read this story,” he grumbled.

“I think I know the headline,” I quipped— “Shoulda’ gone with Cliff!”

Rob shot back, suggesting I was wasting his precious minnows, since I had lost quite a few under unclear circumstances. I later noticed that the jig Rob had given me had virtually no barb, which I argued accounted for the missing minnows, although Rob seemed skeptical.

But Rob’s mood would soon improve. We pulled up our lines at spot number three and headed to another spot, which Rob insisted I can’t publish. I looked around at the dozen other boats working the same patch of water and noted that it was clearly one of the lake’s better-known secrets.

Nonetheless, in this case, the fourth time was the charm, at least for Rob and Nikki. First, Rob evened the fish count with an eater-sized walleye, followed by Nikki who pulled in a beautiful, golden 16-17 incher, our biggest of the day. Then both Rob and Nikki went on a tear, pulling in a mix of eater walleyes and jumbo perch that soon had the live well swimming with activity. I missed a couple strikes, which sparked the usual commentary from the guy in the back of the boat. “Man, for all those minnows, I don’t see much to show for it,” he said. I just shook my head. I knew I was paying for the earlier trash talk.

At least we soon had a diversion in the form of a DNR conservation officer who suddenly (how do they do that?) appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. He spent a fair amount of time talking to the folks in one boat a couple hundred feet from us, while some of the other boats around us suddenly decided it was time to move on. We were doing fine, so we kept fishing and figured he’d make his way over. Another nearby boat, a Boston Whaler, was displaying a 2018 sticker and the lone guy in the craft was apparently unaware, so he continued to fish blissfully, not realizing that the CO already had eyes on him.

The CO did make it over to us, but he was as friendly as could be. He was up from Duluth, helping to bolster the enforcement effort on a high-traffic weekend, and seemed to be having a good time of it. He checked to make sure we had life vests, which we did. Rob asked how folks were doing and he said most boats weren’t putting many fish in their live well. “I think zero has been the most common number,” he said. As we were talking, I caught our biggest perch of the day, finally ending my dry spell.

With the live well looking lively, we took a little more time to take in the other springtime sights. We watched a bald eagle eyeing us from the nearby white pine, and the flocks of mergansers, goldeneye, and bufflehead whizzing back and forth. A few cormorants flew over, along with the occasional loon. It was fishing opener, and the march of the seasons was right on schedule. Vermilion was coming back to life after a long, cold winter.

And, given our fish count, Rob was in a good mood, having left me in the dust once again.

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