Friday, June 14th, 2024

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Friday, June 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Minnesota’s Opener 2023 provides ample chances to “Get the net!”

The author, Ron Hustvedt, Jr., with a 27-inch walleye that jumpstarted his 2023 open-water season during the Minnesota opener on Upper Gull Lake near Nisswa this past weekend. (Contributed photo)

Something that’s often missing from articles and videos about “take a kid fishing” is the ability to successfully net a fish for your fishing buddy. Actually, that’s a skill most how-to fishing articles overlook, but it’s absolutely crucial.

You can have the best-equipped boat with all the latest gear sitting on a dream location with fish all over the place, but if you or your fishing buddy can’t get a fish in the net on the first scoop, it could be all for naught.

It’s not really a skill one can easily practice in the backyard, or by throwing random objects into the water from the boat. One must learn to net fish in the real world, often by making plenty of mistakes.

The author’s son with a thick largemouth bass caught this past weekend.

The skill of netting a fish, like many life-skills out there, is a combination of art and science. The science involves net diameters, fish lengths, handle length, and angles of approach. The art involves working with your fishing partner at the same time as you are reading the attitude of the fish.

This angler has been guilty of dipping a net into the water too early and knocking the hook out of the mouth of an angrily hooked fish. Another mistake has come from waiting too long as the fish rose up next to the boat, sticking the net in a second too late, and swiping at a fish tail as it dove back down.

Many of the skills learned from those mistakes, along with many more successful netting attempts, have been observed by my 15-year-old son who has been my No. 1 fishing buddy since he was a toddler. He’s made plenty of mistakes, and many more successes, himself and those came in quite handy this 2023 fishing opener when fate shined down and blessed us with a walleye opener for the ages.

We were on the waters of Upper Gull Lake near Nisswa a little before dawn on opening morning, spinning rods rigged with jigs and freshly purchased shiners swimming in the minnow bucket.

The plan was to target moving water near a sharp breakline where post-spawn walleye would still be lingering and beginning to feed as the water continued to warm. The wind blew into the shoreline, making boat control a bit of a trick but that combination of current flowing one way, and winds flowing the opposite way, was ideal.

As our jigs bounced along the bottom, up a steep sandbar from a depth of 11 feet and topping out at two feet, we missed a few light bites as we got ourselves adjusted to the open water season once again.

Ron Hustvedt, Jr. with a 27-inch walleye. (Contributed photo)

On one of the runs, just as we were about to reel up and switch locations, a familiar tap-tap-tap came at the end of the line signaling a possible fish. After giving the fish a few seconds to swallow the minnow enough to inhale the jig, I lifted the rod tip and began reeling steadily to ensure a solid hookset.

With only six or seven feet of line off the reel, the fish made a run and peeled at least double that amount of line.

“Get the net. Quickly please,” I said to my son who was already reeling in and on the job.

The fish hesitated and I reeled up and raised the rod to hoist it to the surface. Our jaws dropped as a dark, golden-colored walleye emerged and geared up for another surge and headshake.

It would not get that opportunity, however, as my son deftly slid the net into the water and underneath the walleye. It surged straight into the net as he scooped it from the water, and the jighead popped from the toothy mouth as he lifted it into the boat.

Upon measurement, it was a personal best walleye for this angler on a lake outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While 27 inches isn’t one for the record books, it’s certainly a trophy fish on most any body of water.

The Hustvedts also found a good crappie bite over opening weekend in Minnesota. (Contributed photo)

While I was more than overjoyed to have caught it myself, the Dad in me wished my son had hooked it instead. The realization came to me that it’s not always about getting the glory yourself, sometimes it’s dishing up the assist and making someone else’s success possible.

He still managed to out-fish me throughout the day catching more fish and three more species than I caught. There were plenty of opportunities for me to return the favor of a quality netting job as he reeled in several quality pike and bass. There was also an impressive crappie bite in the shallows, and he kept a limit of 10- to 12-inchers that he gave to my Dad for future meals.

The last laugh went to me, however, as I beat that record walleye with my last catch of the day. In almost the same place, this time in two feet of water as nighttime settled in, I set the hook into the mouth of a 28-inch walleye.

Ron Hustvedt, Jr. ended his opening day on Upper Gull Lake near Nisswa, Minn. with a 28-inch walleye. (Contributed photo)

Again, it made a quality run as he reached for the net and was ready when I brought it to the boat. After some photos and a quick release, I thanked him for another assist, and we fished a bit longer before heading in for the night.

Hooking two of the biggest walleyes in my lifetime, in a single day, was just a stroke of dumb luck. Raising a high-quality fishing buddy is the real trophy.

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