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Posts Tagged ‘walleye’

As ice finally leaves the last of Wisconsin’s lakes and sports fisherman make their final preparations for the opening of the fishing season this weekend, I think it’s important for them to take some time to remember who they’ll be sharing the water with.  The following is the first of a three part reflection on Ojibwe spearing and the importance, tradition, and future of walleye spearing in their culture.

The throbbing cadence of tribal drums blaring over Justin Schlender’s speakers drowned out the rest of rush hour’s traffic.  The rise and fall of the traditional native chants offered a stark contrast to the usual bass beats and techno that bump out of downtown subwoofers. At first, I couldn’t help but to find it ironic. Here, in downtown Madison, who would imagine that Ojibwe music would be causing all this ruckus? After all, aren’t the Native Americans supposed to be the quiet, reserved ones?

But after sitting down with Schlender for a few hours I realized that those thumping drum beats weren’t noise pollution, at all. They were a reminder. Now, even hundreds of years after European encroachment on Indian lands, Wisconsin’s native American tribes are still here–still going strong in their traditions—and won’t easily be forgotten.

The struggle

The Ojibwe have always been spearers. It’s a tradition that’s nearly as deep-rooted as the wild rice that brought them to the land that would become Wisconsin.

Justin Schlender, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of the Ojibwe, has a long history with walleye spearing. It was, after all, his father, Jim Schlender, former head of GLIFWC (Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission), who locked horns in the ‘80s and 90’s with the state and the DNR in order to ensure that spearing rights were recognized.

“Spearing has always been in our blood,” Justin Schlender says. “When the Europeans first came over long ago, they saw us out on the waters in our canoes. It was night time and we had baskets of flame hanging out over the canoe bows. Burning bright, they lit the waters, guiding our spearing ancestors to the walleye. Thus, the French called it Lac Du Flambeau–Lake of the Torches.”

Since the time the first French settlers met the Ojibwe people, much has changed. More and more Europeans settled the area, the United States won its independence from Britain, and the lands of the Ojibwe began looking more and more desirable to the fledgling country.

Under pressure from the United States, the Ojibwe signed the Treaties of 1837 1842 to cede large tracts of land to the United States government in order to bolster a growing American timber industry. With great foresight, though, the Ojibwe leaders who signed these treaties made sure to retain the right to hunt, fish, and gather in ceded territory. This, they hoped, would ensure the survival of their descendents.

But while the Treaties of 1837 and 1842 represented the supreme laws of the land—a binding promise between the federal government and the Ojibwe—state law and DNR officers began dismissing the importance of treaty rights. Ignoring the rights guaranteed by the federal government, law enforcement and the WDNR began restricting and prosecuting any Ojibwe who speared or violated state resident fishing regulations. When the state of Wisconsin was created, they claimed, the Ojibwe lost the right to spear in ceded territory.

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Just a brief report, here. I haven’t been to the Wolf in a week, so this is all information that I’ve gathered from other reliable people and sources.

It appears that the Wolf’s flood waters are finally beginning to recede. While still above flood stage, the discharge levels being being reported in New London have dropped down from 9220 (from last Saturday) to 7320 cubic feet per second, today. Gage levels have fallen, as well, and are now only a few inches above the flood stage levels. Still, the water is high compared to previous years and boaters should excercise caution while on the water.

And as the water levels continue to drop, water temperatures continue to plummet, as well. Cold temperatures, freezing rain, and up to eight inches of recent snow accumulation in the Wolf River watershed have helped push water temps down. According to data by the USGS in New London, as of noon today, water temps for the Wolf were only about 40 degrees. As snow in the area melts off and drains, combined with colder than average temperatures, I wouldn’t be surprised if it dips a little lower before warming up this weekend with more pleasant temperatures.

For anyone that’s interested in watching the sturgeon spawn, this cold water is definitely going to put a halt on any spawning activity for at least a week, and maybe longer. But when the water does start hitting that magic temperature range of 52-55 degrees,  watching the sturgeon spawn at Bamboo Bend in Shiocton or on the Sturgeon River Trail near New London is an awesome experience.

As far as walleye fishing goes, reports are out that the females are done spawning and are making their way back down stream. Logical sense would predict that within the next few days males will be easier to come by as they begin moving en mass down stream, as well.

Plastics like this Ringworm can be a valuable tool for Wolf River walleyes.

As fish continue to get swept downstream in the strong currents, look for walleyes in the fifteen foot depth range. Drifting helps locate active fish and guys are catching fish on both live bait and plastics, as well. If plastics is the route you’re looking to take, consider Gulp! Minnows, ringworms, or twister tails. As always, I tend to suggest brighter colored baits in the turbid waters of the Wolf.

I would imagine fish will continue to head back downstream for the next week or so, but as more walleyes continue to ride the current back into Poygan and the Butte, that good fishing will start following them downstream, too. Even then, there will still be plenty of walleyes that are either local to the up-river portions of the Wolf or that are just a little tardy coming out of the marshes for fisherman to catch north of Freemont. And as water temps (hopefully) rise in the upcoming weeks, fisherman can begin looking forward to the annual white bass spawning run up the Wolf as well.

Good fishing,

Mitch Larson

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