Fish tales: How it took 5 days and 3 guys to land a 29-inch walleye
ROUND LAKE, Minn. — Al Pint set his fishing rod down in the bow of the boat and reached back for an adult beverage, and when he glanced back, he saw his rod "flying over the side" of the boat.
But that wasn't the end of the rod, and it's not the end of the tale of the rod-stealing walleye of Itasca County.
It was Sunday, May 14, the day after Minnesota's walleye fishing opener, and Pint, a retired engineer from Brooklyn Park, and his brother were on Round Lake, a body of water they'd fished for 50 years.
And they were on the fish.
"We found 'em and I dropped the anchor so we could stay on 'em," Pint recalled last week. "I was using a slip bobber, so I didn't think twice about setting the pole down to reach for a beer. Then I looked back and the pole is flying over the side and I see it heading for deep water. I figured it was a big pike.
"I kissed that pole goodbye."
Exactly what transpired in the depths of Round Lake — for the next five days — can only be imagined.
On Friday, May 19, another crew of anglers was on the same spot. And the walleye were there again.
"We were on fire," recalled Joe Harris of St. Paul. "I found a stack of bait, and we were catching walleye, crappie and jumbo perch on jigs."
This group — including Dave Youngbauer of St. Paul, Paul Maturen of Woodbury and Tom Rooney of Eagan — was full of Round Lake veterans as well, although they didn't know Pint.
Youngbauer hooked into something odd in 15 feet of water. Seemed like a snag — but not quite. As Youngbauer cranked, Harris played netman.
"I got the net ready and said, 'Hey you caught a rod,' " Harris said. Youngbauer's jig had hooked the reel. "I picked up the rod and there was a sticker on it. One of those mailing stickers you get for free. I said, 'Hey, you caught Alan Pint's rod, whoever that is.' "
This was actually the third time the group had snagged a rod while fishing. But what happened next had never happened before.
The rod moved.
Youngbauer's jig was visible, and no fish was attached. But the found rod — Pint's rod — still had line attached, and the line was tugging.
Harris played the fish — with Youngbauer now his netman — and when it reached the surface, it was a good one — a 29-inch walleye. "It was a little emaciated by that lake's standards," Harris said. "You could tell it had skipped a few meals, but it was healthy and fighting," Harris said. "I could see the hook was embedded deep into the roof of its mouth."
They landed the fish, snapped a few photos and then cut the line, leaving the hook in place, a common practice when releasing a fish to avoid the potential stress and damage of wrestling free a hook that is deeply set.
Believing this walleye had earned another chance. They released the fish.
"I couldn't fish for the next half-hour I was laughing so hard," Harris said.
It was weeks before the tale got back to Pint. The mailing label on the 6-foot, 6-inch Cabela's medium-weight rod and spinning reel was old, and he had since moved.
"I got a call from the guy who bought my house that he had gotten a letter from a guy named Youngbauer with a picture of a fishing rod," Pint said.
The groups met at a softball game to return the rod. Pint brought beer.
"And that's the story of how it took five days and three guys to land a 29-inch walleye," Pint said. "Unreal."