CHENEY RESERVOIR One second Mark Fowler saw a walleye on the end of the line. The next, after the fish made a last run under the boat, a small wiper appeared hooked to the crankbait.
“You saw that was a walleye first, right?” Fowler asked. “The walleye must have come unhooked and the wiper grabbed it immediately.”
Fowler wasn’t too surprised. Fishing’s been like that at Cheney for a lot of anglers this summer.
Fowler has had mornings when trolling put 50 fish in his boat. Others have doubled that catch fishing other ways.
That kind of action is especially appreciated after the past two years at Cheney, when good fishing was rare.
A major reason is improved water clarity.
Jeff Koch, Cheney’s fisheries biologist, said tests have shown the lake is twice as clear as the last two years.
“I guess some of the stuff that came in (the high water) of 2010 finally settled out,” Koch said. “That really helps, especially sight-feeders like wipers.”
The downside of what anglers are finding in the cleaner Cheney is that the quality of the fish doesn’t match the quantity.
In the spring of 2011, Koch saw anglers catching wipers in the Ninnescah River up to 29 inches. He’s seen few that best Cheney’s 21-inch minimum length limit since.
“I don’t know if it’s from harvest or if we had some kind of die-off because of the heat last year,” he said. “We’ve had real good recruitment from the stockings of the past several years, but most of them are below 21 inches.”
While Fowler has had good action with down-riggers or direct trolling with long lines, other techniques have been working well.
He’s spoken with co-workers at Cabela’s that have waded far out onto flats and made some impressive catches.
Kacci Everitt, of Cheney, often comes at the fish from directly above.
Using electronics, he boats over the lake’s drop-offs, like where a flat quickly falls off into an old river or creek channel.
When the locater lights up with masses of shad, with the inverted Vs of predatory fish mixed in, he’s probably found some fun fishing.
Everitt and friends have been fishing one-ounce lead jigging spoons. The main tactic is to lower the spoon to the bottom, snap the rod tip up a few feet and let the lure free-fall to the bottom.
Sometimes he’s stayed directly over the school and other times he’s anchored a cast’s length away and lobbed spoons to where gamefish have baitfish pinned against a drop off.
“I think about every time we’ve been out this year we’ve caught quite a few fish,” Everitt said. “We’ve had days we probably caught 150.”
Twelve- to 20-inch wipers aren’t the only fish that have been biting, either.
Fowler has noticed improved numbers of walleye this summer. Many are an inch or two below Cheney’s 21-inch length limit.
“Next year ought to be really good,” Fowler said.
He’s also caught younger year classes closer to 12 and 15 inches. All have been fat and healthy, thanks to the clearer water and a good shad hatch this year.
Early Monday morning, he spent about half his time running crankbaits and big jigs behind the downriggers for deeper water wipers.
Other times he was trolling long-billed crankbaits on about 125 feet of line on flats that were sometimes a yard or so deep.
Both tactics worked, and both offered some pleasant surprises. One of his first fish on the downriggers was a flathead of 10 or 12 pounds. One of his last on the long lines was a fat keeper of a walleye that measured 22½ inches.
In between was a fish that put a long, heavy bend in one of the downrigger rods. The fish’s slow head shakes and unexcited pull belied a sizable channel cat, or possibly something better.
Several times, Fowler said he hoped it was a big walleye and it was. The golden fish was big enough measuring wasn’t a consideration.
Instead, Fowler reached for scales that showed the fish weighed seven pounds. It was his best of the past several years.
Heading in to beat the heat at 10:30 a.m., Fowler said he was disappointed in the 25 to 30 fish that were caught.
“But that big walleye more than made up for it,” he said. “It’s been a good summer.”