Home Made Lures That Work (Kind Of)
I left off our tale of fishing with hand-made lures last week with the story of how we got some nice bass and pike, but Northern Wisconsin is known as much for its walleye fishing as anything, and there is no better eating fish than a nice 25" walleye.
As I've been a walleye fisherman since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I had a good idea of what I wanted to carve for a home-made walleye bait. I have only had success in the clear-water northern lakes with two kinds of walleye lures--the thin bodies Finnish Minnows like Rapalas and Rebels, and the smaller, stubbier lures like L&S Bassmasters and River Runt Spooks.
Have you ever tried to carve a Rapala by hand? I have. It is incredibly difficult. So I chickened out this year and turned out a 3" cedar plug I called the Walleye Killer. Carved from red cedar, with cup hardware and a standard bent stainless diving lip, it had a nice, standard action--not much different than many other lures of this type except perhaps a tighter wiggle, which I favor for walleyes. I painted it gold with green spots, and a white belly. As an homage to my dad--who only used red-eye L&S Bassmasters for walleyes for about 40 years--I painted the pupil on the eye a bright red.
We hit the water on the longest day of the year--the summer equinox. My daughter, my dad, and myself--three generations of anglers hitting the same Wisconsin waters our family has fished for a hundred years. Nothing centers you more than that. With the old man running the show, we decided to troll for suspended walleyes near dusk.
As the Walleye Killer only dove about three feet, I added four split shot about four feet up the line. Our trolling rigs are 7 to 10 foot spinning rods (or fly rods, as my brother uses), a quality spinning reel like the Fin-Nor Ahab or Pinnacle Dead Bolt, eight pound test mono, and lots of patience. Daughter was trolling a Rebel Fast-Trac and my father a Suspending Rapala. The sun began to set on a perfect Wisconsin day.
Just as the sun began to set, daughter sets the hook! A tussle ensues, and before long a 21" walleye is flopping in the boat. Dad and Grandpa smile proudly. Little girl beams. All is well with the world. 10 minutes later the old man is into one; a virtual twin makes it in the boat. We have found them suspended in 28 feet of water, off of a steep drop off that bottoms at 38 feet. I add a couple of extra split shot to make sure I am getting deep enough.
Two hours later and nothing. Daughter adds a 20" walleye, old man a couple of smaller ones that go back. The Walleye Killer appears to be the opposite of its fearsome name. We retire from the water to a roaring bonfire and the smell of roasting marshmallows. There is always tomorrow.
The next night we hit the water again, in a different part of the lake. 20" walleyes are nice but we are after bigger ones. I decide it is in for a penny, in for a pound. The Walleye Killer stays on the rod. My old man rolls his eyes. "Don't worry," he says, "your daughter will catch enough fish for both of you." This time it is my turn to roll my eyes, but not where the old man can see me. Some things never change.
It doesn't take long for the Fast-Trac Rebel to put my daughter on to another fish--a decent one! This one, after skillful play and landing, rests just short of 24". The daughter is rapidly becoming a walleye-aholic. I fear she will think all fishing is this easy...10 minutes later and the Walleye Killer is on to a fish! 30 seconds of battling shows it to be a nice one, at least equal to the earlier walleye and maybe even bigger. Then disaster--the fish throws the hook! I have committed a cardinal sin in my father's eyes. I have lost a fish next to the boat.
The disappointment is palpable. I really want to catch a walleye on a home-made lure, and this was my best chance. I replay the fighting in my head--my old man offers the helpful opinion that the drag was too tight. After pondering I come to the conclusion that the fishing Gods do not like the name I have given my home-made lure. So I renounce the rather sinister name, and rechristen it "The Walleye Catcher." Not nearly as cool, but maybe it will appease the water deities who are aligned against me.
30 minutes later, daughter gets a twin to her earlier one and dad boats a 25" walleye. I have a lot of nothing. "Final turn," the old man announces, meaning we are coming around for our final pass. I feel the Walleye Catcher change rhythm as the boat makes its slow 180 degree turn and the lure's speed slows as it swings wide. Then the subtle throbbing returns down the graphite in the rod, and less than 10 seconds after the boat has straightened out, "FISH ON!" The Walleye Catcher is on to a fish! I fight this baby carefully and confidently, retrieving line until the fish is about to breach the water in the darkness. The flashlight catches the solid white eye in its reflections...a rather small solid white eye.
It is clear the fish is only about twelve inches in length. Not a keeper by any means, but I find some solace in that I was able to bring a walleye--albeit a small one--to boat with the Walleye Catcher. I pop one hook out the corner of the mouth, and the little guy (or girl) returns to the depths to either grow big and strong, or become feed for a northern pike. At least I wasn't skunked.
So what can I say about the Walleye Kil...I mean the Walleye Catcher? It won't mean the imminent retirement of the Rebel Fast-Trac or Suspending Rapala. I does, however, show you CAN catch walleyes with your own lures, although they may be small ones.
One final adventure was left for this trip--cracking out the fly rod and my home made bass bugs.
-- Dr. Todd