Hagen: So close to the spring walleye bite

The spring bite, like early spring, can be cold — like sheets of ice forming on the boat ramp.

Mitchell Republic Editor Luke Hagen and his daughter Grace.
Luke Hagen / Republic

The tune-up parts for the boat motor are ordered.

Hundreds of jigs have been poured and painted. Rods and reels are ready to roll.

Now, it’s just waiting for the weather to break.

It’s this time of year that I’ve had enough of cabin fever. I’m ready to emerge from the darkness to go spring walleye fishing.

Missouri River fishing is truly exceptional, and the springtime bite is just amazing.


Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been in the boat for three months that’s wearing on me. Maybe it’s the dark days that keep you tied up indoors for long periods of time. But what I really think makes that itch want to be scratched is how great fishing was last fall on the same body of water.

That day has been on my mind all winter wanting to relive the soft current and beautiful scenery.

It was Nov. 27 when I dumped my boat at American Creek Campground in Chamberlain to catch a two-man limit in a little more than an hour. Ice chunks and a frozen crust was prevalent along the river’s edge. Nothing that some merino wool and hand-warmers couldn’t fend off.

Vertical jigging deep fish to feel that thump of the bite is a simplicity of life not everyone gets to experience. The hookset and the fight is just extra fun.

A day of spring fishing with Grace.
Luke Hagen / Republic

I love fishing anytime of year. Well, it’s not nearly as much fun through the ice for me. You’ve gotta lug all this gear out to a spot, drill holes, set up a heater and look through a toilet-sized hole. Hey, to some, it’s a world of fun.

Get me in the boat.

The spring bite, like early spring, can be cold — like sheets of ice forming on the boat ramp.

One of my most memorable trips was just a couple of years ago in Chamberlain. My buddy and I were about the fourth or fifth truck-trailer at the marina ramp early one cold morning. The forecast was that the day would warm up significantly by lunchtime but 6 a.m. was still sub-freezing. So the first few boats, including mine, that dumped in had no problems going down the ramp. But as more and more left the water trail as they pulled out, a quarter-inch sheet ice formed leaving a rather slippery situation for the long line of anglers waiting their turn.


Well, this day I didn’t have much luck. Before we could make it out of the marina, the steering cable snapped in my 1987 Lund Renegade. We weren’t going anywhere.

After some maneuvering and headaches, we were able to get my boat loaded back on the trailer safely, but pulling the heavy boat up the icy ramp became an issue. And if you’ve ever seen a line of anglers waiting to go fishing, surprisingly there isn’t much patience.

I had to scoop sand and gravel and toss it on the ramp for traction. It took a little bit, but we got out of the ramp and unclogged the wait for everyone else.

The next guy in line, though, wanted to show his displeasure. He whipped his boat around, started backing up and tried to barrel down the ramp at lightning fast speed. Not smart.

He lost control of the trailer on the ice and his rig wasn’t stopping. The boat-trailer bounced off the dock, crunched the side of his motor and put a hefty dent in the side of his boat. His young son yelled, “Daddy, you broke the boat!”

I realized I was having a rough day with a broken steering cable, but this guy was having a really bad day. Oh well. I got my boat fixed within a couple of days and I was back out enjoying the spring bite.

"I like that I can just grab my poles and gear and head out here to fish after a day of work and not have to get everything ready like you do for a boat," said Dana Dozark, a local angler who fishes the Missouri River shorelines.

That Renegade, my first boat, was sold last year to a younger angler who will keep the memories going strong with it. I spent tons of hours in that, including memories with my daughter from the time she was a month old and when she reeled in her first walleye by herself.

A bigger boat that can handle a little more of the Missouri River’s sometimes wicked windy walleye chop was purchased last April.


It’s ready for a full spring of action. So am I.

Opinion by Luke Hagen
Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at
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