A movie without a beginning and without an end, a shoe-in for Oscars, and something I've been waiting to see on the big screen for some 30 years since first reading The Lord of the Rings epic series.
If you've seen the movie or read the book(s), the 10,000 orcs swarming the battlements of Helm's Deep bear striking resemblance to certain boat launches come opening morning of the walleye season. And if you've been walleye fishing for more than a few years, you know the related opening day crowds are just part of the seasonal cycle, as much a part of the opening day tradition as catching the fish themselves. You pull up to the launch before dawn to a sea of taillights waiting in line. So much for being an early bird. And so it begins.
Alas, if you fish in states or provinces where the season remains open year-round with no opening-day phenomenon per se, you miss out on all this wacky craziness. The earliest birds begin creeping out and testing the waters before the fishing gets hot. As the word trickles out--as it inevitably does--that the fish are starting to bite, well, the orcs eventually crawl out of their holes, hitch up their trailers and head for the accesses. But they arrive in smaller waves, depending chiefly on the combined quality of the bite and the hospitality of the weather. And eventually, activity ebbs into normalcy as the bite slackens. But through it all, you seldom witness the overwhelming sudden onslaught and carnival atmosphere of a typical opening day up north.
Crowds are relative, depending upon where you fish. But when faced with an army (navy) of competitors vying for the same spots, what's an angler to do?
The basic premise is to try something a bit different, even if it falls outside the classic early-season approach. There's a nice feature in this issue with suggestions for minimizing the effects of crowds when fishing suspended bites on big water or when fishing crowded rivers during the walleye spawning run. Here are a few additional suggestions for fishing crowded lakes and reservoirs as well.
First of all, unless the bite's really on and everyone's catching fish, don't just get in line and follow the procession of livebait riggers and jiggers backtrolling the drop-off along the outer periphery of the spawning sites. Sure, those are key spots and depths. But chances are a few hours of furious overhead trolling activity and watching their buddies snatched upward through the ceiling has caused even the most foolish of fish to shuffle to the sides, out of the fray, and to lie a bit lower, out of the line of fire. Or to move off the structure and suspend outside, or perhaps roam the adjacent basin. Not real far away, but just enough for you to miss them.
In essence, when faced with fishing among crowds, shift your efforts a bit shallower, deeper, earlier, later, or anything else you can think of to make your offerings stand out in the crowd. Probe into the weededge a cast or two with a jig or a slipbobber. Troll crankbaits and planer boards over the adjacent deeper water. Stay out after dark, while the rest of the herd is vying for limited ramp spaces and trying to reattach their boats to their trailers. Why wait in line when your line can remain in the water?
Here in Minnesota, a typical mid-May opener can witness one million anglers hitting the water, which is probably true, because it seems they're all trying to fish the same lakes we are. That's perhaps a stretch, because we sometimes opt to fish smaller or lesser-known lakes or a river on the season opener, just to get away from the crowds. At the very least, we probe the fringes of angling activity and preferably try to catch fish somewhere and on something that everyone else isn't doing. It's a challenge in itself.
So as you restock your tackle box, respool your reels, and make plans for the upcoming spring fishing season, carefully consider your basic game plan. Join the pack, or break away from it? There's nothing quite as satisfying and sinfully delicious as zagging when everyone else zigs, finding your own fish and catching them in relative solitude. You can always go back to the mainstay areas and fish with traditional methods once the crowds ebb. Meantime, be stealthy. Sweepset the hook sideways, hold the rod low while casually fighting fish, and don't wave the landing net up high where folks can see it. Don't attract the attention of anyone but the walleyes.