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Brad Dokken: No doubt, there is something special about the walleye

For me, the walleye has a mystique I find difficult to explain. The appearance is definitely part of it. Walleyes are beautiful fish, and their color varies depending on where you catch them.

DNT walleye.jpg
The tug of a walleye at the end of the line never gets old for walleye anglers, but the allure of this popular game fish is difficult to explain.
Contributed / Duluth News Tribune
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – It’s a question with no easy answer, no right or wrong, but it’s a fun question to ponder on this opening weekend of Minnesota’s 2022 fishing season:

What is it about the walleye that makes it such an alluring fish among anglers in this part of the world?

I posed that question to several people – anglers all, of varying backgrounds – and their answers appear in a story elsewhere in today’s Northland Outdoors section and on the Herald website.

Whatever the reason, there’s something special about a walleye. …

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Growing up in northwest Minnesota, I did most of my fishing on a small river and a place the locals call “The Bog.” Northern pike were – and still are – the most abundant species in both places, and it’s not uncommon to catch pike every cast when conditions are right.

Every once in a while, though, a walleye would show up at the end of the line, especially on the river, and it was always a treat. It’s become less of a rarity in recent years, though whether that’s because walleyes are more abundant now or whether we’re just better at catching them is difficult to say for sure.

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They call it the Minnesota “fishing opener,” but everyone knows the day is really about the walleye.

I suspect it’s the latter. As kids, our fishing was pretty much limited to casting spoons from shore, a technique that’s definitely conducive to catching northern pike. The ability to cover water in a boat, whether pulling crankbaits or boating to a favorite spot and jigging, has definitely upped the odds for catching these small-river walleyes.

For me, the walleye has a mystique I find difficult to explain. The appearance is definitely part of it. Walleyes are beautiful fish, and their color varies depending on where you catch them. I’ve caught walleyes in stained, root beer-colored Canadian waters that are almost black. By comparison, walleyes in Devils Lake and Lake of the Woods tend to be a lighter gold color, while walleyes from the Red River are paler in appearance, the exception being the “greenback” walleyes from the Manitoba portion of the Red River and Lake Winnipeg.

All are beautiful in their own way.

I also like the way a walleye feels in my hands. While pike are smooth and slimy, walleyes have a sandpaper-like texture to their skin.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the way a walleye fights. For the most part, they’re not the hardest-fighting fish in the water, but the tug of a walleye as it tries to “stay down” and hold its position on the bottom of the lake or river never gets old. Nor do the head shakes, or that first glimpse of the white-tipped tail and spiny dorsal fin as the fish approaches the surface.

The bite of a walleye can be oh-so-subtle, especially when jigging (my favorite technique) – more like a “presence” at the end of the line. Other times, the bite is an aggressive “thunk” that nearly rips the rod out of your hand.

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Walleyes keep you guessing and that, too, is part of the attraction.

It’s hard to beat the taste of a walleye, and that’s especially true when the fish is served up outdoors as the main course in a wilderness shore lunch. Grilled walleye seasoned with Greek or Cajun seasoning is my favorite, but I’ll never turn down a filet that’s pan-fried or deep-fried, either.

For my money, they’re also the easiest fish to clean.

Most important of all, though, perhaps, is the walleye’s ability to produce good memories. I’ve had some absolutely magical experiences over the years while fishing walleyes with friends and family.

For that, and for the walleye-fishing memories to come this year and beyond, I am forever thankful.

Wanted: Your fishing and hunting photos

The Herald’s online Trophy Room gallery of hunting and fishing photos is back in commission, and it’s waiting for your photos.

The past couple of years, photos have run willy-nilly in the Northland Outdoors section of our website without the landing pad a gallery provides, but a recent change in the Content Management System – or CMS – provider we use to feed our website has made it easier for me to manage the photos in a gallery format.

The gallery will continue to grow as I receive more photos.

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Do you have a fishing or hunting photo you'd like to share? Send your photos to bdokken@gfherald.com.

With open water fishing season in full swing, I’m guessing those of you reading this must have photos of walleyes, pike, catfish or any other number of fine-finned specimens you’d like to show off.

Photos from last fall’s hunting season or the spring turkey season are fair game, too, of course; the more the merrier.

If you have a fishing or hunting photo you’d like added to the Trophy Room gallery, send it to me at bdokken@gfherald.com . Please include information about the angler or hunter, such as where they live and general area where the fish or game was taken. Photos will be posted to the Trophy Room gallery, and some will be printed in the Saturday Northland Outdoors section as space and photo quality permit.

I’ll be on the lookout.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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