By Wolf Ridge Naturalist
As I meander down to Wolf Lake from the Lakeview House with a fishing pole in hand, it becomes hard not to notice all the changes going on in the forest this time of year.
Under the surface of the lakes, there are almost just as many, going unnoticed by most. My earliest memories are of fishing for walleye at the family cabin with my father, today I plan to try my luck once more. As the season shifts deeper into fall, water temperature triggers chemical changes in the water. These chemical changes spur on biological and behavioral changes in the inhabitants of the waters, in preparation for winter. When the creatures you are fishing for change their behavior, the way you fish for them changes as well.
The temperature has been dropping for weeks and the hours the sun graces us with its presence has decreased.
In the water, it’s a little more difficult to see the effect of this but on land, you can see it in deciduous trees. Maples were orange and red and aspens flaunt their golden leaves. Sliding my canoe away from the dock, I can see the colorful hillside reflecting the coming fall in the calm water. As I adjust my gaze to penetrate the lake’s surface, I detect seasonal changes there as well. Aquatic plants, with the lack of light and the cooling of the water, dieback and take to their roots to wait out the dormant months. The water itself has changed. I dip my hand in and it is cool to the touch, where only a month ago the water would have still been pleasantly warm. The chilly nights cooled the once warm surface temperatures of summer. As the surface becomes cooler, it becomes heavier than the water below it and sinks. When this happens over and over the lake mixes into a uniform temperature and this mixing also redistributes the oxygen in the water evenly as well.
This mixing spurs the creatures dwelling in the water to make noticeable changes in their behavior.
When I glance over the side of the canoe I wish I could see down just a bit further into the water, and survey the fish. The ripples from my boat obscure my view and so instead I relax for a moment and take in a little warmth from the fading October sun. The fish are not relaxing, the cool water sends a signal to all the fish to feed before the more frigid temperatures hit. The walleye from schools to hunt in, searching the lake quickly for prey almost around the clock. They begin to resemble the wolves on the land above in this fashion. Their prey here in Wolf lake is the small perches and sucker fry, as there have been no other minnow species found in the lake. These smaller fish, having lost the cover of weed beds, form large schools for protection and move to find the last insects and plankton so they too can bulk up for winter.
All of this movement below the water means several changes for my fishing strategy. Now I have to paddle more. Gone are summer days of tossing a line in over my “secret” spot and waiting at dusk for the walleye to come to me. The fish are roaming in search of food, I need to paddle around to find them. The first place I go is the edge of a weed bed near the narrows of Wolf Lake. Some dead stems may still provide a little cover for prey fish and the deep water nearby provides a place for walleye to come and ambush them. The soft plastic lure I am using to imitate the small fish the walleye are feeding on is repeatedly flung out and bounced across the bottom. After several minutes it is clear that the fish I seek is not here, so I make like a walleye and move.
This stop I try the shadow of Mystical Mountain where fallen boulders provide safety for the small perch.
The lure is again flung in many different directions until I feel that slight pull on the line. With a flick of the wrist, the hook is set and the dance begins. The rod moves from one end of the canoe to the other. After a few long minutes, just under the surface, sulks a walleye. I admire the fish for a moment, the green of the scales and large eyes built to hunt in low light. Then I lift its head out for just a moment to pop the hook out and with a flick of its tail, back to the depths the walleye dives.
I return the canoe to the dock and look to the forest once more. There are a lot of changes happening all around us, especially in the fall. With all the leaves changing it can become easy to miss the hidden changes when the large ones are so easily seen. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy fishing so much, it forces me to slow down, look for some of those little changes To be successful, I must change my behavior and adapt.