By Louie Stout
Jakob Kintzele has fished with his grandfather dozens of times in the Michigan City harbor, but on Dec. 21st he hooked and landed more than he expected – the biggest walleye caught in Indiana last year.
You read that right. Not a trout, not a salmon, but a giant walleye. The fish weighed a whopping 11.88 pounds and measured 31.25 inches.
The Chesterton, Ind. angler was on spring break from Princeton University, where he is a freshman studying Geoscience and is a member of the track and cross country teams. When visiting his grandparents in Michigan City, he and grandad Tom Anderson always try to get squeeze in some fishing time.
“Before I went to college, we fished from shore almost every week for steelhead or salmon,” said Kintzele. “I’ve caught steelhead that were bigger, like around 15 pounds, but this is definitely a cool ‘second’ as my biggest fish down there. It was quite a shock.”
When the fish slammed the silver spoon he was winding back to shore, the pole bent hard and line zinged off the spool.
“We thought sure it was a big steelhead, but when I got it to the water’s edge and saw the goldish color and the fin, I was like,‘Whoa! This is a walleye!”
As always, Kintzele was using his grandfather’s tackle, a old spinning outfit spooled with “14- or 20-pound braided line tied to a 10- or 12-pound monofilament leader,” he said.
“After we got the fish in, we looked at the line and it was all nicked up,” Kintzele added. “It was old line, so we were lucky to land that fish.”
Fortunately, they had a net, albeit a small one.
“The net was laughable; maybe two feet in diameter, just enough to get the head of the fish scooped onto shore,” joked Kintzele. “We’ve always carried it and considered it our lucky net.”
As the teenager battled the fish, Indiana DNR biologist Ben Dickinson was watching through binoculars from his nearby office.
“I figured it was a big steelhead, but when I saw that was a big walleye I ran down there to check it out,” Dickinson said. “I told Jakob he needed to let us weigh and measure it and enter it into the Indiana DNR Fish of the Year contest in the walleye division.”
It won easily.
Kintzele planned to release the fish back into the lake, but when an older angler fishing nearby insisted he wanted to eat it, Kintzele gave it away.
“I was seconds away from releasing it, and would have liked to have done that, but the guy wanted it pretty badly,” he said.
In case you’re wondering, the Indiana walleye record stands at 14.25 pounds.
More importantly, you’re probably wondering what a big walleye was doing in the Michigan City Harbor mouth.
If you follow this column, you may recall a story we did not long about Dickinson’s crew finding big walleyes in nets they set for lake trout near the Michigan City breakwall just outside the harbor.
Indiana doesn’t stock walleyes in Lake Michigan. “In the last five years, we’ve encountered about a dozen walleye weighing between 4 to 14 pounds,” he said. “We netted one a couple of years ago that had to be close to the state record. We didn’t have scales to weigh it, but I have to believe it was 14 pounds or bigger.”
Dickinson said he hears of the occasional walleye being caught in the harbor by trout fisherman, but none as big as Kintzele’s.
So how does the biologist explain the recent influx of walleyes?
“There’s obviously a sub-population that hangs out around Michigan City, but we see a similar situation around the Port of Indiana,” he said. “We have limited habitat, but we hear about a few being caught along the southern lakeshore. There’s not a huge population out there.”
Those fish are probably strays that Michigan plants in the St. Joseph and Galien rivers, he added.
“There could be some natural reproduction going on, but we’ve never seen any small walleyes, so that leads me to believe they are from other stockings,” he explained.
Dickinson also noted that biologists are seeing more northern pike, and last year, a big muskie was caught in the Michigan City Harbor by a shore angler.
“The eco-system is changing,” he explained. “The water is clearer and we’re seeing more weed growth in protected areas. Plus, shad and goby populations are healthy so these other fish species in the area have a good forage base to feed upon.”