July 12, 2008

Nolan: Waunakee Teen Reels in 32-Inch Walleye

By John Nolan, The Wisconsin State Journal

Jul. 12--Justin Zurbuchen has a pretty good feel for finding fish on nearby Lake Mendota.

The 17-year-old from Waunakee recently pulled in an 18-inch largemouth bass and routinely hauls in crappies and bluegills.

The diverse fishery, located just a few miles from his home, covers 9,842 square acres and features just about everything an angler could want -- bluegill, large and smallmouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike and walleye, among species. But when he wants to try his hand for walleye, he opts for a change in scenery and drives about 30 minutes north to Lake Wisconsin.

"It's not as crowded on the water, usually, though this year there's been more people up there because of the flooding," said Zurbuchen, who will be a senior at Waunakee High School in the fall. "I just like going up there because it's basically a river and somewhere different to go. I usually have more luck up there for walleye."

On June 17, a warm and blustery day, Zurbuchen and classmate Dylan Reinke headed for the 9,000-square acre Columbia County lake. The waters were choppy, Zurbuchen recalled.

The boys spent a few hours hitting on a few bass -- nothing worth noting.

At about 3 p.m., Zurbuchen said, he got action on his 8-pound line.

"I thought it was a cat(fish) at first because it was fighting really good," said Zurbuchen, who was fishing from the Mirro Craft boat he and his father purchased in the spring. "I pulled it out and saw the face on it and said 'Whoa! We're keeping this one!' "

The walleye he pulled in would have left a pro angler green with envy. The fish he caught, using a hard lure from the Rapala line, measured 32 inches and 12 pounds. It's not a state record -- Tony Brothers caught an 18-pounder in 1933 on High Lake in Vilas County -- but it's indeed an attention-getter.

"That is an exceptional fish. Congratulations to the young man who caught it," said Ron Barefield, a guide who fishes Lake Wisconsin. "It just goes to show that the slot limit (20- to 28-inch protected limit) on Lake Wisconsin is working.

"I'm catching more 20- to 25-, 26-inch fish than I've caught in a lot of years because of that slot limit."

Zurbuchen's father marveled at the catch after his son brought it home to be mounted.

"That's the biggest walleye I've ever seen," said Mark Zurbuchen, a purchasing agent for the University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation clinics.

Mark Zurbuchen also marvels at his son's interest in fishing.

"Basically since he was a little boy I've tried to take him out, whenever he wasn't playing sports. Whenever we did -- you know how most little kids would last five minutes and be bored? -- well, he never had an issue with that. He would be out there from dusk to dawn," Mark Zurbuchen said.

Justin Zurbuchen, who works at Ace Hardware in Waunakee, sent the fish to taxidermist Mike Jensen in McFarland be mounted.

"It spawned out, so it's a little lighter than you would normally see," Jensen said last Monday via cell phone from his spot hunting muskies on Lake Waubesa. "It's a nice fish for Lake Wisconsin or around here. It's more like what would come out of Green Bay."

Jensen said the fish, following a lengthy drying process, should be available in about a month.

His father says it will be quite an addition to the family's rec room.

"This is our first (mount)," he said, speculating it could be the first of many.


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