It happened one Christmas Eve

I believe I could fish in my sleep. It was at the Kinzua Dam Tailwaters, on the Hemlock side, below the big rocks, between the fallen trees, my favorite place to fish for walleye at what then tended to be a stable outflow. Walleye would hang right about at the ends of the fallen trees.

Tied to the end of my line was my favorite jig, an upside-down minnow pattern with natural brown bucktail on the bottom, yellow bucktail on top, and a tab of red calf tail at the upside-down throat. This is still a great jig pattern, worth tying for those few anglers who still tie bucktail jigs.

Then, as we often must do now, the jig was not tipped with a minnow.

Maybe I fell asleep on my feet and continued fishing, maybe not. Probably my mind was with the jig, trying to make it act like a minnow. At any rate I was oblivious to what was about to happen.


I was blessed with very fast reactions, but then not quite adjusted to civilian life. I hit the ground before rolling to look immediately overhead from whence the horrible sound had come. There maybe 5 feet over my head when I had been standing was a great blue heron perched on a limb. At that moment it chose to loose a great white stream from its rear end. It was fortunate, indeed, that I had rolled the right way after hitting the ground.

Fishing had been oh so slow, dead in fact, for at least a couple hours. Briefly while brushing off the mud and wet leaves, quitting crossed my mind. But with calm air and temperatures in the 40s after dark on the night before Christmas, it seemed like it should be a great night for walleye fishing.

On the very first cast when I resumed fishing there was that light tick indicating a walleye had sucked in the 1/8 ounce jig. The hook sunk into the upper lip of a nice walleye. One that did not have to be measured.

It was not a walleye on every cast. But almost a hit on every cast. In short order a limit of good walleye were clipped on my rope stringer.

There are two days each year when walleye fishing is almost always great. Maybe always if a fisherman is fishing at the right time in the right place. These days are the night before Christmas and on the opening day of the regular deer season. Christmas Day afternoon is another great day to fish at the tailwaters. But this is a day to fish for trout, another subject.

Winter walleye fishing at the tailwaters is the best time to fish here for walleye. They tend to be abundant, but more important, the average size is much better than during summer.

Another great thing about walleye fishing on Christmas eve is the night fishing. Stillness, quiet, sometimes interrupted by a truck running along Route 59 on the opposite side of the river, or a splash made by who knows what make this a time to recharge the body battery. Occasionally a muskrat, mink or beaver swims by very close.

Mink have always fascinated me. Quite often mink have done the things mink do with complete disregard for me. Investigating every place where something interesting may be hidden, in tree roots and into undercut banks, they are very entertaining.

Just about any winter night is good for walleye fishing. I have caught walleye while heavy snow fell, during steady rain, on starry nights and under all phases of the moon. And I have been skunked in all of those situations. Many more times than I have slammed the walleye. But that is fine. The night stands well alone.

It has been many years since I fished for walleye on Christmas eve. This became the time when my wife, Jeri, and I get together with her family to celebrate the season. As much as I love walleye fishing, this is much better.

Merry Christmas. Don’t get run over by any reindeer. Be good because Santa is watching.