Paul, let us start by saying what a pleasure it is to have this opportunity to sit down and ask you a few questions, we’ve even got a few from our readers, and congratulations on your FLW Walleye Angler of the Year award!
Fishing Fury: How old were you when you first started fishing? Who introduced you to the sport, and when did you first start exclusively targeting walleye?
Paul Meleen: Well I’ve basically been fishing since I could walk. I can remember riding my bike to a local river growing up, and basically fishing every day I could. My cousins and uncles really introduced me to fishing; they got the ball rolling so to speak. I target walleye exclusively on the FLW tour, but I still enjoy fishing for many other species. Of course Walleye will always be my passion, but I love to go after bass, muskie, pan fish and steelhead too.
FF: When you were growing up did you ever think that one day you would be a pro fisherman?
PM: I think I knew by the time I was 12 years old that I wanted to compete at fishing. I practiced as much as I possibly could and would enter tournaments whenever possible. My career basically grew from there. I have been around on the professional scene since day one. I was one of the originals on the Professional Walleye Tour.
FF: You were recently named FLW Walleye Angler of the Year. At the start of the season did you have any idea it would end this way?
PM: No, I did not know that it would end this way. Winning the FLW Walleye Angler of the Year award has always been a goal of mine, and I’ve worked really hard to get here. Coming in to this year I had a lot of confidence in the way I was fishing, and I also had a lot of help from my wife who took over more responsibilities with our family businesses. Her help allowed me to focus even more on fishing, and I think that made a big difference. Overall, it was a great year and I am both grateful and humbled to receive this award.
FF: How did you feel after you found out you won?
PM: It didn’t really sink in at first when I won. I heard the news when I was in the midst of preparing for the championship on Lake Leech. So it took a little while for me to realize that I had won. But it felt great to win. Knowing how much of a grind it has been at times and how much work went into this, I feel like I have really achieved something.
FF: What do you feel is the overwhelming appeal of walleye that creates such fanatical followers?
PM: I think the biggest thing is that walleye fishing is a way of life. It’s been passed on from generation to generation, so it runs in the blood in a way. But another big part of it is the nature of the fish. Walleye can be very finicky. Many other species can be finicky as well, but not like walleye. So I think out of necessity the skill set of your average walleye angler is much more advanced than that of anglers targeting other species.
PM: My favorite set-up is for live bait fishing. It’s nothing fancy, just a slip sinker and whatever live bait I happen to be using. But it appeals to me because I love to feel the thump of the bite when the fish strikes. Trolling can be very productive, but feeling that strike is not something you get when you troll. As far as my different set-ups, I like to use St. Croix rods for jigging and live bait scenarios. I like to use Cabela’s trolling rods. All of my reels are Shimanos.
FF: What is your favorite walleye fishing tactic and why?
PM: Well again I really like live-bait fishing. I also love using jigs. With both of these tactics you can feel the bite and set the hook. With these tactics there is also more ability to affect the presentation of your bait, which is important because doing that right involves a lot of skill, but when done right can generate many more bites.
FF: What is your favorite walleye lake and why?
PM: I love Devil’s Lake as well as Lake Leech where we just had the championship. Both of these fisheries are first rate. They are classic glacial lakes. But I love fishing all over. Lake Michigan is another one that comes to mind that I really enjoy when I have an opportunity to fish it.
FF (Comment by Stephen): Just how important is trolling speed when fishing for walleye, is it based entirely on your lure’s running speed? And what’s the best method for determining and maintaining your speed, do you rely on a speedometer or GPS?
PM: Trolling speed is very important. More times than not, the crank bait triggers a reaction bite, which is the key because fish will only chase your bait so far depending on water temperatures and time of year. For instance, in the spring I think 1.5 to 1.8 mph is a great speed, but that increases to 2 to 2.5 mph in the summer months when the walleye are more active and are willing to chase a bait longer distances. As far as determining and maintaining my speed when trolling, I rely solely on my Hummingbird GPS. It’s the most accurate instrument to gauge my speed when I’m going so slowly, and again the difference between 1.5 and 1.8 can be huge sometimes. So it’s very important to try different speeds to see what is working, and then to use your equipment to maintain that speed.
FF (Comment by Matt Legend): As a professional angler, you put your equipment through quite a test each season – especially your boat and engine. What have you learned from running your equipment so hard that could be helpful for weekend anglers?
PM: The easiest way I know how to sum this question up is by just saying buy and Evinrude and buy a Ranger. I was one of the very first, if not the first walleye angler to fish with a Ranger. This was back in the days when people never thought Ranger would be a good walleye boat. But now you see them all over the place. In terms of my engine, the new 300 HP Evinrude E-TEC I ran this season is the finest motor I’ve ever had. I think one of the biggest advantages it offers to the weekend angler in particular is the fact that you can run it for 3 years or 300 hours before it needs servicing. When you have other engines that need maintenance every 80 hours or so, that takes away from the time you could be out on the water chasing fish.
FF: So, what’s next for Paul Meleen?
PM: I’m going to set the rod down here for a stretch and do a bit of hunting. I’m looking forward to next year already! In the meantime I’ll be blogging over at the Evinrude E-TEAM blog, so be sure to check that out for interesting stories, tips and tricks to help you during the offseason.
FF: Paul, it was a pleasure to get this opportunity and we’ll be keeping a close eye on you on the FLW Walleye Tour next year!
If you would like to read more about what Paul Meleen has to say about walleye fishing you can also check out another interview, by our friend and contributor Tony Andrews, over at the Walleye Guy Blog.