Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Spearing Walleye, Fighting Misconceptions

Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Members Leelyn VanZile, standing, and Wayne LaBine spearfish for walleye on Butternut Lake in Forest County. Photo by Ben Meyer, WXPR.

The sound of spring peepers filled the air as the sun set on Butternut Lake in Forest County in early May.

Standing on the back of his motorboat, Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Member Wayne LaBine dropped some tobacco into the water and said a prayer.

He pulled his Native Pride baseball hat on his head. Then he took a seat behind the boat’s wheel.

“Before we harvest anything, whether it’s fish or deer…we offer our ‘asema,’ our tobacco,” LaBine said. “We show that respect to the things that we’re going to take because they all are living and they all have spirits. They’re giving their lives for us.”

The ice departed this lake about a week prior, meaning conditions are right for walleye to enter the shallows to spawn. Like they have for thousands of years, these Ojibwe Tribal Members will harvest some of them.

“Take what you need. Not what you want,” LaBine said as he started across the lake. “That’s what this is.”

As the boat drifted into the shallows, the light of Tribal Member Leelyn VanZile, standing in the front of the boat, joined the light of the moon and stars above.

He illuminated his headlamp and grabbed a long spear with four barbed tongs on the end.

“This is where walleyes like to spawn, is in the rocky area,” VanZile explained. “I just kind of sit here and look for the eyes. You can see the eyes glowing in the water.”

He saw the eyes of one walleye reflect his light and plunged the spear into the water. The first fish of the night dropped into a bucket in the boat’s bottom.

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