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Walleyes biting well on Lake of the Woods By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

WILLIAMS, Minn. — Nick Painovich, owner of Zippel Bay Resort, guided the big, 30-foot charter boat around the corner and through the mouth of the bay. Lake of the Woods lay before us. Nothing but water could be seen along the northern reaches. The view of the south shoreline was tree-lined until it, too, faded into the dancing heat waves and melded into the lake’s surface.

To the east you could see a couple of faraway islands, two of the over 14,000 found on this giant inland sea.

Our destination was 23 miles to the north just outside “the Northwest Angle.” The Northwest Angle is the farthest north portion of the contiguous United States. Its existence is thanks to a mapmaker’s error in the late 1700s.

It was an hour’s run to a reef where one of Nick’s charters had picked up some nice walleyes the day before.

Our plan was to troll bottom bouncers and spinners with nightcrawlers impaled on three-hook rigs. And, it was a good one.

We soon were pulling eating-size walleyes and saugers over the side of the big boat. The best ones were put in the live well for supper back at camp that night.

Gary Howey, of Hartington, Nebraska, and I had arrived at Zippel Bay the day before. Nick put us up in one of their big log homes available for guests. There are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a jacuzzi, kitchen with stainless steel appliances, fireplace, flat-screen TV and a large deck.

We met Nick for breakfast in the lodge and then boarded the charter, where we were joined by Mitch Cole, a veteran charter boat captain with 40 years of service on the water.

All walleyes between 19.5 and 28 inches must be released at Lake of the Woods. The walleye/sauger aggregate limit is six, but not more than four can be walleyes. From Dec. 1 through April 14, the limit is increased to eight, but only four can be walleyes.

We were catching a lot of fish, nice 18- to 19-inch “eaters,” but none topped the 19.5 mark. We were hoping to get a “picture” fish, which, of course, would be released. Last year I released an eight-pounder. So we made a change of location to another reef about five miles to the southwest. A charter captain there told Mitch via marine band radio that he was trolling plugs behind downriggers and was catching some nice fish.

We pulled in, put down our spinners and began boating fish. But once again the larger fish were eluding us.

pic-nick-crankbait

Nick Painovich is about to attach a crankbait to one of his downrigger rods. Pulling cranks over reefs is a popular summertime technique. We caught walleye and sauger on spinners and crawlers and Jigs and minnows as well as crankbaits.

Nick decided we should try crankbaits trolled behind downriggers. The reef was 30 feet down with scattered rocks. The walleyes were there and we tossed back a couple of slot fish.

It was getting late so we decided to try another reef just outside the mouth of Zippel Bay. That’s where I took the eight-pounder last summer.

We dropped anchor on top of the reef and switched to jigs and minnows. Again, the depth was right at 30 feet. And we caught more fish. When I set the hook into a 19-incher, I said it was time to go in. I was going to go out as a winner.

During the trip we got to talk to Mitch and Nick about the fishing on the big lake.

In the spring and fall the walleyes move to shallow water along the shorelines, and in July and August they set up housekeeping on rock reefs in 20 to 25 feet of water. In the spring and fall, walleyes prefer the jig and minnow, and as the water warms into late June, spinners and crawlers or crankbaits become more effective.

It’s a huge lake with 65,000 miles of shoreline. When it comes to walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, perch, muskie and northern pike, it’s a hard lake to beat.

While we took the charter boat a long ways up the lake, there are plenty of reefs a lot nearer to the bay that offer good fishing year-round. There’s really no reason for anglers in small boats to make big runs down the lake.

Nick’s resort is the only one on Zippel Bay. Located on the lake’s south shoreline, the bay is a couple miles long and not very wide. The bay itself offers trophy northern pike fishing as well as perch and walleye.

The ice fishing here is wonderful. Nick maintains a bunch of comfortable, heated ice houses on the lake and maintains a road system complete with street signs.

Zippel Bay Resort is open from May through February. Nick and his wife, Deanna, have owned the resort since 1977. It features just about every amenity you could think of. Their customers range from hardcore fishermen to corporate groups to families and children. It even has a swimming pool.

They have a charter boat service featuring five 30-footers and knowledgeable captains that work out of the resort. Boats are equipped with downriggers, rods, reels and lures.

To learn more, check out their web page at www.zippelbay.com or call them at (800) 222-2537.

More outdoors information is ound at http://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors