Monday, September 14, 2015

Columbia River walleye on the fly

Fly fishing for walleye is not my first choice when it comes to casting flies on the Columbia River but when leaves begin to turn, and the temperatures cool, September can be the best time to target this tasty table-fare fish.
I remember the first time I caught a walleye; I had just moved to the Kootenays some 15 years ago and was fishing a sinking line with a woolly bugger hoping to catch one of the large rainbows that inhabit this stretch of the Columbia near Trail, B.C.
I initially thought I had snagged a log, but when the log began to move I realized that something rather large had just taken my fly. It wasn't a rainbow, I knew that for certain, and when I finally reeled it in, I looked in disbelief at what was about a 30-inch walleye, a species I was totally unfamiliar with. I gingerly released my fly from its toothy maw and lightly kicked it back into the river not realizing that I just landed what was the largest of its kind I would ever catch.
Walleye are an alien species, so BC fisheries allow a generous 16-fish-per-diem limit. I've never had the desire or intention of retaining that many in one day's angling but recently I've started keeping a few for the table. And to be honest, once one breeches the armour-like scales, avoids being impaled by its razor-sharp fins, and slices off the filets, the walleye is one of the best fish I've had the pleasure of eating.
It's white flesh is similar to cod, firm and perfect for fish and chips or simply pan frying it with herbs and spices and lemon wedges.
I use a 6-weight rod with full sink line and a short four-foot leader and usually a streamer pattern, stonefly, or woolly bugger in brown or black and green. Walleye are bottom feeders so you have to get the fly down. I like to cast into a run and then let it settle in the seam or pool, then use a dead-slow retrieve.
One huge bonus is that I'll usually hook into one or two large rainbows as well. The other night, a big bow peeled my fly line in seconds and took me into my backing as it ran into the middle of the river before I was able to gain control and coax it to hand, before releasing it.
The week before I landed about a four pound smallmouth bass. I fully expect to hook and land one of the more recent invasive species, the northern pike, which have been caught in some regularity in the calmer sections of the Columbia.
I question the excessive limit quota, I mean really why not just make it no limit, as fisheries did with the pike. Anglers will never fully rid the system of its now numerous alien species that include bass, walleye, and pike not to mention some 20 other species like brown trout, brook trout, lake trout, perch, carp, bullhead, pumpkinseed, goldfish, catfish, and bullhead.
Few are as good eating as the walleye, so with the generous limit and a fish that will eat almost anything and is relatively easy to catch, why not enjoy an autumn day fishing on the Columbia for the delectable walleye.