Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Dry fly walleyes and a car-jacking moose

By Shawn Perich

The first evening was frustrating. Fat, creamy yellow mayflies were hatching on a favorite lake, floating on the surface for a moment to dry their delicate wings for flight. Some didn’t make it to lift off, instead disappearing in a swirl as they were eaten by hungry fish. My fake mayfly floated among them, fooling the same fish. But I kept drawing blank when I set the hook.

From experience I knew some of the swirls were made by trout; others by suckers. Eventually, I connected with a nice brown trout that I played and released. I hoped that meant my luck was turning, but it didn’t. I continued to miss strike after strike until approaching darkness pulled the curtain on my fishing.

Back at the truck, I loaded the canoe without a light, performing tasks so familiar I can do them in the dark. Then I heard footsteps on the gravel road. A moose? A bear? A wolf? Whatever it was, I didn’t want to meet it in the dark.

“Woof, woof,” I said in a loud voice.

I heard no more footsteps and finished tying down the canoe. Starting home, I met the maker of the footsteps while rounding the first bend in the road–a yearling cow moose. She was standing in the middle of the road. Usually, I douse my headlights and give the moose some time to amble into the woods. But the cow was so close to the Ranger that I left the lights on to keep an eye on her.

She seemed confused or lonely maybe. Turning as if to walk off, she then changed her mind and started coming my way. With a couple of steps she was almost touching the truck. She started walking around the passenger side. I hoped she would walk on by. But no, she stopped. Now she was wild-eyed, her body tensed for action. I’ve seen that look before, just prior to a charge. I had a sinking feeling that she might come, hooves first, through the windshield. Muscles rippling, she went into motion.

At that moment dear reader, had you been sitting in my passenger seat you would have screamed like girl. For the record, I did not.

Fortunately, the moose lunged away from the truck and turned back to where she started. She stood there for a moment, seeming unsure what to do, then ambled off into the woods. I was happy that she left my windshield intact. A couple of miles down the road, I saw another yearling moose. These days it’s good to see them.

The second evening, I decided to explore new waters; new for fly-fishing anyway. The lake contains whitefish, which I was told rise for midsummer mayflies. To cover more water, I hauled the big boat instead of the canoe. I found the whitefish, or think I did, rising in the middle of the lake.  Once again, I was frustrated, but for a different reason.  The rises were sporadic and all beyond casting distance from the boat. The wary whitefish were staying well away from me. As darkness approached, I headed for the landing, defeated.

Just off the launch, I snatched victory from the jaws of defeat 9or something like that). In the twilight’s last gleam I noticed some fish rising in the shallow, weedy bay. Thinking they were likely perch, I decided to see if I could catch one anyway. A fish swirled at my fly and soon thereafter I boated a walleye. The light was fading quickly, so I had little time remaining to catch a second one; enough for walleye dinner. Soon I had a second, bigger than the first and I lost a third one before it became too dark to see my fly. There were no moose on the ride home, but I was pleased with my discovery.

Catching walleyes on dry flies is an uncommon occurrence. I’ve done it a handful of times during the mayfly hatch. After what I experienced last weekend, I suspect I could catch them consistently if I didn’t spend my precious midsummer evenings fly-fishing for trout. I returned to the same lake Sunday, this time with the canoe. Nothing was happening when I arrived, but as the dusk deepened, mayflies appeared on the water. Walleyes began to rise.

Since mayflies generally appear during the last minutes of daylight, you must fish well to make the most of the action. I caught two walleyes in short order, then my waterlogged fly stopped attracting their attention. I switched to a fresh fly, barely able to thread the hook (as usual, my flashlight was in the truck) in the fading light. The high-riding fly with yellow bucktail wings (a trade secret) was much easier to see.  Soon it disappeared in a swirl. I brought walleye number three to the net. In short order, I landed three more; the last just as darkness fell. The entire fishing episode lasted perhaps a half-hour.

Driving home, I felt smug and satisfied with my weekend’s evening adventures. Although the brown trout and whitefish got the best of me, stumbling into terrific dry fly action for walleyes more than made up for it. As an angler, I very often spend my fishing time going to my tried and true places rather than exploring somewhere new. This time, a change of pace allowed me to stumble into some good fishing that I wasn’t even looking for.  Better still, I avoided what may have been an attempted car-jacking perpetrated by a moose.  How was your weekend?

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