MN: Fishing license sales recover – a bit

Muskie opener set for Saturday

St. Paul – Suffering from a poor showing up to the 2011 fishing opener, license sales in the state have rebounded in recent weeks.

But as of the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, sales of all types of fishing licenses were down 19 percent compared with last year. Just prior to this year's May 14 opener, which brought with it rain and cold, license sales were 30 percent of 2010's pace.

"There always is a certain amount of variation," said Linda Erickson-Eastwood, DNR Fisheries program manager. "But it usually creeps back up."

Several factors have the ability to affect fishing license sales – from the economy to flooding to the biggest factor, according to Erickson-Eastwood: the weather. And this year has been anything but desirable in terms of weather conditions, whether it's been cold, windy, rainy, or there's been the mere threat of storms (often with that threat becoming reality).

During the past decade, though, fishing license sales have been quite steady, averaging about 1.06 million licenses sold. Last year the number was about 1,049,000.

Three years ago, fishing license sales started out slowly, perhaps due to weather, or perhaps due to high gasoline prices. At this stage in 2008, 477,000 fishing licenses had been sold, compared with 473,000 this year (and 565,000 in 2010).

But by year's end in 2008, total sales reached 1.05 million, which was slightly higher than the total sold last year.

Erickson-Eastwood said high gas prices don't necessarily equate to fewer licenses sold. As the price of gasoline rises, people often choose to stay closer to home to recreate. In some cases, some anglers who might venture out of state to fish launch their boat on a local Minnesota lake, she said.

Muskie opener

Minnesota's muskie season kicks off this Saturday, and, like most other seasons – bass, walleyes, etc. – this year's muskie opener probably will be affected by the weather: if not directly on opening weekend, by the weather that led up to the opener.

Jack Shriver, of Shriver's Bait Co. in Walker, said the development of vegetation in one of the state's best-known muskie lakes – Leech – was behind schedule this year. Early season anglers typically target that cover when seeking muskies.

"I don't think they'll (muskies) be far from their spawning beds yet," Shriver said Tuesday. "I'd work small spinnerbaits."

Should anglers find active fish, then they could try larger bucktails and similar lures.

Aside from Leech, area lakes that offer good muskie fishing include Cass and Andrusia, as well as the Little Boy-Wabedo chain of lakes.

It's a slightly different story farther south in the state. In French Lake, for example, a couple of invasive plants have created the beds in which anglers might find muskies, according to Scott Mackenthun, a DNR fisheries specialist in Waterville.

In general, the southern portion of the state has had similarly cooler, wetter weather than usual, but species like curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil grow early.

"This early in the year, anglers aren't likely to encounter too much else," Mackenthun said.

Last year in April, the DNR conducted an assessment of French's muskies, he said. The average size of the adult fish sampled was 41.7 inches, up from 40.6 in 2007. Further, two 54-inch muskies were sampled, the largest fish found in sampling to this point.

"We're pretty pleased with how things are going (in French)," he said.

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