By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Brian Zapzalka and 8-year-old Tucker Hedin, both of Swanville, are fishing buddies and both are looking forward to another season of fishing.
“This year I predict the opener will be great,” said Zapzalka. “Last year on fishing opener, the water was in the 60-degree range, the walleyes had gone to deeper water and weren’t biting. They are more active and eat more when the water is in the 50-degree range. This year the water will be much cooler, so the walleyes will be biting.”
When the water begins to warm as the summer progresses, it may be time to travel to a larger, and cooler, lake for continued success in catching walleye, he said.
Zapzalka said when the water temperatures drop to the 50s in the fall, the fish start biting again.
Preparation is key to a successful first day of fishing, said Zapzalka.
“Line is cheap, change it every year. I change mine two or three times in a year. Line has memory and will hold the shape of the reel after awhile,” he said.
Another tip he gives is to save one’s old cooler, the one that looks as if it should be tossed in the dump.
“If you are going to keep your fish, put them on ice right away in that old cooler, don’t keep them in the live well. They will taste more like fresh-caught fish and not store-bought,” said Zapzalka.
Zapzalka has made a check list for himself and Hedin to look over each year before they go out fishing for the first time. He said it is so much easier to work on the boat or pontoon and all the equipment when it is parked in the garage or the yard and not sitting in the water.
That list includes making sure:
• The bilge pumps are working properly;
• The tackle box has everything it needs, then resupplying it if necessary;
• The trailer lights are working properly;
• The depth finder is in good working condition;
• There are enough life jackets in the boat and pontoon for everyone who will be present; and
• There is a throw cushion available to assist someone in distress.
“Tucker’s job is to help get the poles ready,” said Zapzalka. “He is just starting to tie hooks for me.”
Taking care of the equipment, from the boat and motor to the hooks and line is important to ensure they last.
Zapzalka said knowing the weather conditions is imperative when going out on the lake.
“It’s a good idea to have a radio with you on the boat, or at least know the daily forecast. Be sky wary,” said Zapzalka.
As someone who has been fishing most of his life, Zapzalka said success on the lake is determined by many factors. The right lure for the right lake contour is important.
“I use a slip bobber when fishing in a lake with a less diverse bottom,” he said. “When trolling, a Lindy rig is best, using crawlers or leeches. Or, when the terrain is more diverse, I use a lead-head jig.”
If fishing for northern pike, Zapzalka said he likes both live bait, spoons or Rapalas.
Hedin likes to use sucker minnows.
When it’s sunnies or other pan fish the angler is after, Zapzalka said during opener, they will be in the shallows and the fishing will be slow. He said it’s best to wait until it warms up to catch them.
Both Zapzalka and Hedin don’t always keep the fish they catch. They respect the Earth’s resources and practice catch and release.
“We are ensuring there are fish for the future,” said Zapzalka.
Hedin will say to the fish as he lets them go, “Catch you later.”
Other ways Zapzalka and Hedin respect the resources of the lakes include taking only one’s limit of fish.
“I have seen people catch their limit, go home, then come back and catch another limit,” said Zapzalka, who feels that is one reason fish resources dwindle.
Invasive species in the lakes are becoming a huge problem. Zapzalka advocates pulling the boat plug, draining the bilge and the bait well when leaving the lake will keep invasive species from being brought to uninfested waters.
“Also, clean all the weeds from the boat and trailer before heading to another lake,” he said.
A successful trip to the lake with children depends on keeping them busy, said Zapzalka. He said it’s important to show a kid how to fish, but if the fish are not biting, a child can get bored easily and they won’t want to return. Take them when the fish are biting.
Zapzalka learned to fish from a neighbor, Leo Polasek, when he was growing up near the Swan River in Sobieski. Polasek would take him and his four brothers fishing often, and at least for Zapzalka, the love of fishing grew. So much so, he has passed it on to his fishing buddy, Hedin.
Everyone has a secret fishing spot, even Hedin. But, neither he or Zapzalka would tell where that spot is.