After bumpy start, fishing trip ends well

For most outdoor adventures, the exciting part usually starts after you leave your vehicle and set out into the woods, fields, and waters.  But as my buddy Scott and I bounced through road construction on our way to Lake Pepin at 4:30 a.m., the excitement was a little more than I had bargained for.  

The sign read "Road Closed to Thru Traffic," or something like that, as we rolled off the blacktop onto a gravel right of way.  "We can make it through," Scott said optimistically. "There’s a turnoff at the top of the hill."  

Now, I can just imagine what you are thinking.  Why would anyone drive past that sign, especially in the early morning darkness?  But at that time of the morning, my thoughts were focused only on the reports of hungry sauger and the steaming cup of coffee that was slowly but surely waking me up.  I wasn’t going to argue about taking a shortcut.  

It wasn’t long before the gravel turned into a dirt track, looking more like a plowed field than a road.  My jeep and boat trailer shuddered and bounced across the deeply rutted trail like a teenager on a carnival ride.  Just when I thought that we’d have to find a place to turn around, a set of wheel tracks made by the road machinery appeared in my headlights and lead us to the turnoff and away from the construction.   

Once on the water, it didn’t take long to forget about our off-road adventure — well, almost. I’d heard from more than one person that the sauger and walleye bite has been one of the best in years.  


Of course, I’ve heard one that before and even when it is true, I’m usually a week too late. This time I wasn’t disappointed.  

We hadn’t motored very far from the boat launch when my rod tip slowly bent downward toward the water as if the nightcrawler rig had picked up weeds. I grabbed the rod and, just to be safe, set the hook hard.  Sure enough, I felt the familiar tug of a fish on the other end of my line.  A minute later, Scott netted the toothy sauger and hoisted it into the boat.  

The fish were hugging the river bottom in 10-15 feet of water, and if the lure wasn’t running right in front of them, a few inches above the sand, they just weren’t interested. Fortunately, I had tied on the heaviest weight in my tackle box — a three-ounce bottom bouncer — to weigh down the crawler rig. It proved to be the key to success that morning.  

As we trolled back and forth off a sandy point, one sauger after another inhaled my nightcrawler rig and dug deep for the bottom. Also known as a sand pike, they tend to be smaller on average than their cousin, the walleye. But I placed a few of them, ranging in size from 14-16 inches long, into the cooler for the trip home.

Even though I was catching plenty of fish, Scott had only an occasional strike. Most days, he's a fish magnet and on more than one occasion, I’ve sat and watched with chagrin while he pulled in all the fish.  

"You know this is payback for the day we ice-fished on the dike road," I commented, a wry grin spreading across my face. He knew exactly what I was talking about and chuckled at the thought.  One mild winter day, we sat on the ice within two feet of each other and while I looked on, he nearly limited out on big bluegills.  

There’s nothing like some good-natured ribbing between friends.  But I would rather see him catching fish. I tossed over a three ounce weight, and before long, he too added a few fish to the cooler.  

Soon, we’d both had enough excitement, on both dry land and water, to last us a day or two.  The fish were still biting, but as we reeled up our lines and headed for the launch, I knew we’d be back soon. 

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