Changing times for walleye fishing

Walleye season closed March 15 and it won’t open again until the first Saturday in May, but this is the time of year walleyes spawn in various rivers in New York.

Years ago, when my friend and neighbor had a cottage on Black Lake, each spring we would go up for a weekend to do some repair work on the cottage and also do a little crappie fishing. If the lake was calm we would take a boat ride across the lake to Rossie to see the huge number of walleyes making their way up the Indian River to spawn. At one time, Black Lake was one of the best walleye lakes in the state, and my neighbor and his uncle knew the lake well. It was not uncommon for them to bring back several nice walleyes after a morning of fishing and it was more unusual if they didn’t.

But things changed. Sometime in the late 1970s or ’80s the weeds began to get thicker and the rocky shoals where we found walleyes were now engulfed in thick weeds. This had to impact the walleyes spawning in the lake and it began to show. However, more than weeds, it seemed crappies began to proliferate at an astounding rate.

Put on a bobber with a hook and a fathead minnow on the end and you could catch a crappie. The sheer number of crappies, who love minnows, had to have an impact on the walleye population because eventually catching a walleye became a celebratory event. After my neighbor died, his place was sold and I haven’t been there in a few years, but guys who have tell me the walleye population has recovered somewhat.

When my son was an undergraduate at SUNY Oswego, I had to trek there and bring his belongings home after the semester ended in May. While there, I enjoyed going downtown to watch the fishermen in the Oswego River. May is when Lake Ontario walleyes spawn in the river, but they are only able to travel about a mile before their migration is blocked by a high dam.

The quarter-mile of water between the river mouth and Bridge Street in the city held a large number of walleyes at the peak of the spring run, and that concentration of fish attracted a large number of fishermen. As I recall, many fishermen tried their luck from shore on both sides of the river, and if memory serves, many fished the river in boats as well. Despite the crowd and a few tangled lines, fishermen seemed undeterred because the prospect of catching a lunker walleye kept spirits up. As I saw it, the fishermen used night crawlers, jigs and stickbaits of various sorts.

Sad to say, I never got the chance to fish the river; loading and hauling a pickup full of furniture, books, pictures and an assortment of other college “stuff” had a way of dampening that feeling.

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