DULUTH — I ventured north last weekend, not to find fame or fortune, but to mow the lawn.
But I digress.
This is a column about fishing, in general, and walleyes in particular and, even more particular, 17-inch walleyes.
The Myers clan is lucky because the place we often fish has lots of walleyes (smallmouth, crappie, pike and musky, too, but those are other stories.) We catch walleyes from 8-18 inches regularly, occasionally up to 28 inches and even a couple 30-inch-plus monsters.
I will tell you that a summertime, feed-bag-on 25-incher is probably the fightingest walleye of them all in our lake.
And yes, they do battle there. I’m not talking tarpon or Atlantic salmon or even steelhead. But, pound for pound, a 5-pound walleye from this water can make you wonder, briefly, what the heck is on the other end.
Especially in the warm waters of summer, I’ve had several experienced fisherman insist they had a pike or bass or musky on the line when up came a 25-inch walleye.
Wherever walleyes got their rap as a boring fish to catch, it wasn’t there.
But it’s the 17-inch walleye that is king for us. We have our own self-imposed slot limit and keep only walleye between 14 and 17 inches, winter or summer. We release the rest.
But when the fishing is good, as it usually gets in late June and July, we tighten that slot up. To make it more of a challenge, we’ll only keep 16- or 17-inch walleyes.
It’s a ridiculously small slot size but the fishing can be ridiculously good, and there always seems to be just enough 16- and 17-inchers that we can bring our modest limit back to camp for fish dinner.
The smaller fish go back in the lake, sometimes with a kiss. If it’s 18 inches or bigger, the walleyes get kissed and released. Anything 25 or longer often gets photographed, then kissed and released.
The 16- and 17-inchers get kept. And here’s why:
- They are just big enough that, when you set the hook and feel that first tug back, you think, hey, nice fish. They look like an adult walleye. That white spot on the tail is getting big.
- They are the perfect size to clean and eat. Big enough to offer chunky fillets and small enough so they fit in the frying pan. They are big enough to be a bit forgiving to the filleter (I’m not good with a knife) but small enough so they fit on the filleting board.
- They are the perfect meal for one person. Yes, you’d think large-girth guy like me could eat multiple walleyes in a sitting. But, truth tell, with the baked beans and fried potatoes and canned corn and a beer and probably dessert, the two fillets from a 17-inch walleye are about all I can handle.
- They have less mercury than bigger fish, and mercury is bad for people.
- The fillets fit perfectly in a one-gallon plastic freezer bag.
- Sixteen- and 17-inchers even seem to taste better than bigger fish.
What’s not to like?
So that’s why, last weekend, after the mowing was done, I went looking for some 16-and 17-inch walleyes. And by gosh, I found some.
Pass the fried potatoes.