A Very Large Walleye Caught

Talk about the power of positive thinking: Wayne Heinz gave you tips for catching a state-record walleye in our March issue of Northwest Sportsman, and then last weekend nearly landed it himself.

In that issue, the Richland, Wash., writer interviewed fellow Tri-Cities anglers Mike Hepper — he of the standing state mark — and his friend Del Bareither about how they target trophy prespawn sows on the Columbia and its sloughs.

Even gave us their hot-spot map.

With its sources, Q&A format and Heinz’s unique writing style — he won first place for magazine hunting stories in the regional writers association’s awards banquet earlier this month — it’s easily one of my favorite articles of the year.

WAYNE HEINZ AND HIS TROPHY WALLEYE. (WAYNE HEINZ)

Since then, the region’s experienced late winter, late-late winter and, for good measure, late-late-late winter. Temperatures have been 5 to 6 degrees below normal, retarding the spring Chinook run, and Heinz says the big river itself is just 54 degrees out in the middle … not too far off the prime range for walleye to start thinking about shacking up.

So last Friday afternoon, after working on another story for an upcoming issue of Northwest Sportsman, Heinz thought he’d try his hand at landing a whopper.

“Why? I really thought I could do it,” says the author of How to Catch Salmon, Sturgeon, Lingcod, Rockfish, and Halibut Along the Pacific Coast.

Up to this point, the biggest walleye he’s ever landed went 12 pounds.

He dunked his boat in and headed for a backwater not far below the mouth of the Snake River.

After last week’s much-needed sunshine, the water temperature in shallow, rocky-bottomed Casey Slough was around the 70-degree mark, and Heinz thought he’d start out catching some smallmouth. They’ve been fishing well, though the local rivers are all in flood mode.

He picked up his “wimpy spinning rod” loaded with 6-pound line, a 1/4-ounce jig with 5-inch black-with-red-flake curl-tail worm and cast onto a murky reef that’s about 100 feet offshore.

Reeled in, cast again, and dagnabit if he wasn’t snagged up just like that.

Some days are like that.

But this is also the McNary Pool, home to some very, very large walleye. Heinz points out he was fishing just a mile from where Hepper caught his 19.3-pounder back in February 2007, and in that March issue he reported that in January Hepper had landed an 18.3 and Bareither a 17.4 in the reservoir.

“You keep your rod tight, just in case,” he says.

Indeed, head shakes told him he wasn’t latched onto a sodden log or the Ice Harbor Member of the Saddle Mountains Basalt flow, rather something alive. And big.

“Once I saw him, the sweat poured off my brow,” Heinz recalls.

Except for another boat a couple hundred yards off, he was all alone.

“My partner cancelled out,” he says.

The large fish twisted and torqued his bass rod, diving underneath his own craft three times before he could net it.

“I missed him twice,” Heinz says.

So there he was standing at the gunnel with an undersized aluminum net needing some sort of divine piscine intervention.

“‘Fish gods, make him dive into this net,'” Heinz says he said. “Sure enough he goes into it.”

But the walleye was so heavy that he worried the net handle would have broken had he tried to lift the fish out of the water.

So Heinz reached down and grabbed both sides of the net, as if he were bringing a crab pot aboard, and yarded the monster into the boat.

“It’s all belly. I’d say it’s a 13- or 14-pound walleye with 4 or 5 pounds of eggs,” he says.

He says it taped out at 34 1/2 inches long and 21 1/2 inches around. Online weight calculators yield a host of figures all the way up to just south of 20 pounds, and his scale rang it up as 19.6 pounds — three-tenths of a pound above Hepper’s.

“At that point I thought I had the state record,” Heinz recalls. “That was it, I was done, I gotta get to Safeway as fast as I can.”

He quickly adds that he didn’t have much faith in his Berkley scale, though.

The nearby boat had a Rapala scale, and on it the fish went 18.4, he says.

The final weight on an Albertson’s scale was 18 pounds, 4 ounces, Heinz says.

We’ll never know how big the walleye really was the moment it came aboard.

“It milked eggs and bled all over the boat,” he says.

But it may have been the biggest in the region of the year.

“I’ve heard of the occasional 13- to 15-pound fish,” says Jason Bauer of Northwestwalleye.com, “but have not heard of anything close to 18 this year. Lots of rumors were swirling around a Moses Lake fish, but that was debunked weeks ago.”

It seems odd that a hen would be carrying its eggs so “late” in the season, but Heinz points back to the cold water out in the mainstem. Perhaps river temps had risen enough to trigger the fish to move shallow and spawn.

And perhaps if he’d had company, things would have turned out differently, but alone and excited about his bleeding catch, he thumped the fish.

“Looking back, I regret killing it,” Heinz notes. “There’s no glory in runner-up.”

But it does add to the glory of Northwest walleye fishing.

“It shows the fishery we have — it’s world class. Nowhere else can you do this. Nobody is going to match Columbia River walleye fishing,” he says.

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