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Checking walleye off the old bucket list

We arrive at the boat launch at 6:30 a.m. Strong west winds come roaring through the elm trees. The Columbia looks more like the Pacific than a river. Wind waves of two to four feet are tipped with white.

“Could be an interesting ride out there,” Tom mutters.

“Hey, that 28-foot Alumaweld is built to handle the ocean,” Devon responds. “This will be nothing.”

Devon Pearsall put this trip together. He had heard about the successes’ Donald Koskela of Pastime Fishing Adventures, had been having on recent walleye trips. He needs four anglers for a trip.

Pearsall, formally of Keizer, has fished salmon, steelhead and sturgeon all his life. He was a professional fishing guide for a number of years.

Pearsall calls longtime friend Tom Gerold, of Keizer, and sets things in motion. Gerold is a serious bass fisherman. He has his own bass boat, has fished tournaments, has fished salmon and sturgeon for years.

Next call was to me. I had fished with both of them multiple times.

When I tell my friend Jon Moberg about the trip, he is eager to join us. Jon grew up in a commercial fishing family. He commercial fished for salmon in Alaska for 39 years and has always wanted to fish walleye.

So, here we are, on the Columbia River, hoping to check walleye off the old bucket list.

Koskela gives us a brief introduction to our gear, how to hook up night crawlers, keep your sinker 4-6 oz (bottom walkers) tapping the bottom, don’t set the hook, swing the rod up, and out, and reel.

He has each of us set up with a different color spinner and beads looking for the hot color of the day. Trailing the spinner we have a three-hook worm rig. Worms are to be hooked so they remain straight.

We feel the power of the 200 hp Merc as we head upriver with strong winds to our back. Koskela assures us that as soon as we round the first big curve the mountains will block much of the wind.

In a matter of minutes, we’re fishing for walleye.

“Tom, that’s a bite,” Koskela almost whispers.

Tom slowly eases the rod out of the holder. “Remember, don’t set the hook,” Koskela cautions. “Slowly swing up and reel. That’s it. You got him.”

Our first walleye of the day. In fact, the four of us have never landed a walleye.

A guide friend of Koskela’s, Charlie, is fishing the same area. Fishing is slow. We manage two more fish and see Charlie land a couple, then later head upriver.

Koskela keeps assuring us, “We’ll find em.” Text from Charlie, “found fish.”

We catch up with Charlie in time to see them land two fish. We drop in and I immediately have my first walleye. In a matter of minutes, we land three more.

We continue to hook fish each pass through the area.

If you have caught other species of fish, you will probably be disappointed in the “bite and fight” of walleye. The bite is usually pretty subtle. You lift up and reel them in. Some anglers call it “catch and eat” based on the fine quality of the meat.

Reading the bite can be the most difficult part. You are trolling along on bouncing water trying to keep your sinker doing a “tic, tic, tic” along the bottom. Usually, the bite will just slightly change the tic.

“You’ve got a hitch hiker, G.I.,” Koskela calls out. “Reel him in.” I couldn’t believe it. I was watching my rod tip and never realized I had a fish on. It was simply following along. This happened to us several times during the day.

Bite slows, Charlie heads back downriver, we head upriver. Another hot spot with bigger fish.

Jon hooks a heavy fish. He slowly brings an 8-9 pounder to the net. Large females like this are the broodstock of the species. After photo ops she is released to lay more eggs.

Pressure is off. With good numbers of fine eating fish in the cooler, the wind calming down, we take more notice of our surroundings.

We have an unobstructed view of Mt. Hood in all its splendor.

We are in an arid zone, usually turned brown by this time of year. We have grass still lush and green.

We have 37 nice fish in the cooler and a long boat ride back into the afternoon wind ahead of us.

Devon has volunteered to assist Koskela in filleting the catch.

It has been a great day with good friends. We are taking home, what many say is the finest fish on the planet.

Four of us can finally check walleye off the old bucket list, and plan on coming back again.

More About Walleye

Walleye fishing is open year round. There is no bag limit, no size limit. Although, some recommend you release the large females.

(Probably not going to happen when a person lands a trophy of 10-16 pounds.) They are the broodstock that produce the next generation.

The Columbia leads the nation in producing trophy walleye. The state record is over 19 pounds.

Native American Tribal netters have brought in fish that would have been world records.

Tournaments pay out big bucks and attract teams from all over the nation.

Walleye can be found throughout the Columbia. Some have been caught on the Willamette River below the falls at Oregon City.

Best way to learn the fishery is hire a reputable, certified guide, and have some fun.