BRAD DOKKEN COLUMN: My favorite fish to catch would be ...
Somebody asked me the other day if I had a favorite fish to catch—or try to catch.
I had to think about that before responding. Walleyes are right up there, to be sure—I think that's almost a requirement if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota—but I'm content reeling in pretty much any fish that graces the end of my line.
Bullheads would be an exception. The spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins give me the willies. I'll pick up a 30-pound catfish, no problem, but a bullhead flopping at my feet will have me reaching for the gloves or the pliers every time.
Not a big fan of the bullheads.
Walleyes take center stage this week with Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener, and I'll be on the water with some friends marking a rite of spring that has become a can't-miss tradition in recent years. Season for northern pike and trout also opens Saturday in Minnesota, but everyone knows the fishing opener is all about the walleye.
The attraction is difficult to describe. Walleyes aren't the hardest-fighting fish out there, but they can be a challenge to catch. They also rank highly on the beauty scale, with those cool-looking marble eyes and teeth you definitely want to avoid.
As table fare, their mild taste makes walleyes a favorite, as well. But are they my favorite fish to catch? The answer, I decided, was no.
That distinction goes to lake trout.
I've been hopelessly addicted to lake trout since catching my first one more than 25 years ago on a remote lake in northwestern Ontario.
Our destination lake also has walleyes, but we'll spend most of our time chasing lakers.
So, why lake trout?
To me, they're more "exotic," for lack of a better word, and not available where I live without driving several hours.
Lake trout are every bit as beautiful as a walleye in my eyes, and I absolutely love the way they can nearly rip the rod out of your hands when you hook one vertical jigging in 60 feet of water. The areas I have fished them are pristine and stunning in their beauty, with rugged, pine-studded shorelines and cold, clean water.
They also grow to gargantuan proportions. My PB laker measured 36 inches—they get much larger than that—and hit a bucktail jig in 50 feet of water on the Ontario side of Lake of the Woods, an area definitely rich in scenery and natural beauty.
Taste-wise, lake trout are excellent fresh out of the water but they're not as pleasing to most palates as the walleye. Still, they top my list.
Rounding out my top five, in order are:
• Walleye: For all of the reasons listed above.
• Catfish: Forget the perception that catfish are lowly bottom feeders. Catfish are top-level predators that fight as hard as any fish I've ever encountered. Plus, they're easily accessible here in the Red River Valley.
• Northern pike: Probably the most underrated and underappreciated fish that swims in freshwater, northern pike deliver the goods both for their fighting qualities and their table qualities. Pesky y-bones give pike a bad rap, but a couple of extra cuts with the filleting knife will easily take care of that. They bite readily, fight hard and can grow large. What's not to like?
• Sturgeon: I've gotten my butt kicked more often than not in recent years when it comes to sturgeon, but I've also battled sturgeon until I thought my back and arms would seize up. Drop a line in the Rainy River or Four-Mile Bay of Lake of the Woods, and every subtle bite could mean a battle with a fish weighing 75 pounds or more. The anticipation of what could happen is enough to keep me coming back.