May 22, 2014

The Holy Land

     Walleye chasers are a funny bunch of nuts. Ask them to tell you where their favorite fishing spot is and they'll either lie quite convincingly right to your face, or slap you in that very same face, or both. I had my introduction into what I call the "walleye religion" a couple years ago during my tenure as a grad student at the University of Idaho (see Undisclosed Percids in Undisclosed Locations) so I sort of knew what to expect when I moved to the Tri-Cities Washington. However, what I didn't fully realize at the time was that if walleye fishing is a religion, I had moved right smack dab into the middle of the holy land! The waters of both the Columbia and lower Snake rivers are home to a large population of walleye where the average fish size is bigger than just about any other walleye fishery in the world... literally. The state record was just broken right here a few months ago by a fish of over 20 lbs! So ya, if you want to catch a trophy walleye, this is the place.
     There are times when being a fisheries biologist has its advantages. Walleye fishing is one of them. My colleagues are some of the best walleye fishermen around. You may not see them entering the tournaments, or posting their pictures on the fishing forums, but they get it done, and they catch BIG fish. One of my buddies caught an 18 pounder last year (and a 7 1/2 pound smallmouth from the same spot...), and they've all caught fish up to 15 or 16 lbs. Here's a 16 pound fish that I got permission to post because the background is safe and no secret spots can be gleaned from the picture!
No "long-arming" necessary on a fish of that caliber!
     So all that being said, I've been chomping at the bit since I moved here to capture a decent size specimen of my own. So around the middle of February, it started. My first trip of the year was a slow one, but I managed to beat my previous best (2 pounds) by catching this little three pounder.
Columbia River Walleye
I know what you're thinking... The fish in the last picture would eat this little thing!
     It might not look cold in the picture but it was. Nevertheless, since we were having a slow day, one of my buddies wanted to find out if there were actually fish in the area. We had fish finders on the boats, but that wasn't good enough. He parked his boat on the shore, put on a wet suit and jumped in with a mask and snorkel... in February! Did I mention that hardcore walleye chasers are a little nuts?? I don't know what he saw down there, but he eventually caught a few fish that day up to 9 lbs.
Columbia River Sunset
The sun sets on a day of Columbia River walleye fishing.
     I went on a couple other trips, but nothing exciting happened. I began to get nervous as the season was dragging on. I knew it had to be soon, or it wouldn't happen. 
     About the middle of march, one of my wisdom teeth started hurting pretty badly. They had done this in the past and nothing ever came of it. But this time the pain just kept getting worse. I was going to have to go in to the dentist. What does this have to do with fishing you ask? Some of you may not know this, but dental procedures can bring some very good fishing luck. I'll refer you to the post Give Thanks for Chrome where my brother had an emergency root canal then joined me on the river for one of my favorite steelhead fishing trips ever. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to fish with a toothache when the opportunity arose this time. 
     This was the trip I had been hoping for. It didn't take long until both of us were catching fish and my toothache disappeared. The first one I brought in added another pound to my personal best.
Columbia River Walleye
Four pounds of delicious fish fillets!
     The next one added two more pounds!
Columbia River Walleye
You can't see it, but the scale has a 6 on it!
     Then it happened. I hooked a fish that just felt, well, different than the others. Walleye don't fight hard to begin with, but I noticed that you can sort of judge their size by the style of the fight. The rest of the fish I had caught had quicker headshakes and came in relatively quickly. This fish stayed down near the bottom, shook his head with the slow authority of a massive fish, and just plain felt heavy. I've caught enough fish to know when something interesting is on my line, so I was trying to be careful and not screw anything up. However, it was just not in the cards that day. Whatever it was, came unhooked just before I could see it. Did I cry? You bet your biscuits.
     I missed my shot at the monster, but about two minutes later I hooked another fish and my grief subsided. As consolation prizes go, this was a pretty good one! I landed my biggest walleye ever at 8 lbs. It's still not a big one for the Columbia River, but I'm not complaining. It's definitely a big one for me!
Columbia River Walleye
No more toothache!
I like the angle of the fish in this picture better, but it turned out blurry...
     That was the end of my walleye season for this year. That monster will have to wait for another time. Of course the toothache returned with a vengeance the next morning so to the dentist I went. I don't remember much other than a blur of happy-gas, needles, drills, and pliers. Long story short: I'm now wisdom-less.
Was this worth catching a big walleye? I think so!
Disclaimer: Do not look at this picture if you think you might get squeamish... although if you're reading this, you've probably already seen the picture. Sorry about that!


  1. Awesome stuff Bryan! I'll bet that was fun chasing those toothy guys, and I hear they are delicious. I sure would like to figure out how to catch them in Ririe over here. And bummer about the lost wisdom. That's a pretty cool banner too.

  2. Tooth-aches definitely bring good fishing! I can't wait till I get another toothache! Good stuff - keep up the fishing and the posts!