Challenging conditions greet anglers for opener 2013
Alexandria, Minn. — This Saturday’s fishing opener will be different than most for a lot of anglers. While there will be plenty of walleye-fishing options in the southern half of the state, getting a boat on many lakes to the north still looked dicey early this week.
In some areas, an open-water fishing opener just isn’t going to happen due to lingering ice conditions. In other locations, fishermen will choose their spots based on what’s available for open water, while lakes to the south should have a normal opener.
Across central Minnesota, many lakes were ice-free last week, and the ice that remained was deteriorating fast. But even so, there’s a chance some bigger bodies of water might still have limited ice on them by opening day.
Dana Freese of Christopherson’s Bait in Alexandria says anglers shouldn’t be worried about where ice remains, but rather focus on catching walleyes where it doesn’t. The small, shallow lakes are traditionally the most productive early season walleye producers. That will remain the case even more so this fishing opener.
“I would say the small- to medium-sized lakes will be ice-free, but the big lakes like Miltona and Ida likely will have floating ice,” he said. “But from a fishing standpoint, those small lakes usually are the best bet for walleyes to start the year, anyway.”
Ice-out just occurred around the Twin Cities. So while finding a place to fish won’t be an issue on opening day, locating big numbers of active walleyes could be tough thanks to unusually cold water for this time of year.
Bob Sonenstahl of Wayzata Bait expects walleyes to be a bit deeper than most openers. He says a good starting point will be 16 feet and he said that anglers should focus on lakes such as Minnetonka, Waconia, and Independence in the metro area simply because they offer bigger walleye populations.
Sonenstahl suggests fishermen pitch minnows and jigs or crawlers on floating jigs and work them slow due to the cold water. Having a rod or two rigged for crappies might not be a bad plan, either.
“The cold water could make for a tough bite on the opener. They’ll catch some fish, but the best walleye fishing will be a week later,” he said. “The crappies and sunfish are moving shallow and they should provide good fishing. It’s definitely an opener to bring the crappie gear.”
The ice has been gone in the Fairmont area since the first week of April. Most lakes this far south are set up for a strong start to the walleye season, according to Justin Sommer of Sommer’s Bait.
Sommer said water temperatures are cooler than most years, but that should provide for some excellent mixed bag fish-catching opportunities on the opener.
“I hope more people migrate this way because we should have a good bite,” he said. “They’ll likely be working post-spawn walleyes and people will catch crappies and walleyes in the same shallow areas.”
Three weeks ago, anglers were fishing through the ice on Big Stone Lake during the Minnesota/South Dakota border walleye opener. For this Saturday’s start to the inland season, the ice will be gone and the walleye bite is expected to be very good.
Artie Arndt of Artie’s Bait in Ortonville says the walleyes in Big Stone will still be in pre-spawn mode. That means plenty of active males for the livewell and big females that need to go back into the lake.
“The South Dakota side should be best because there’s a lot of shallow rocks and I’d look north from Hartford Beach to the Bonanza area,” he said. “I’m expecting a great bite this weekend.”
Brad Foshaug of Brad’s 71 Bait and Sports in Willmar also says the late ice-out should provide area anglers with a pre-spawn walleye fishing scenario on the opener. It will allow people to cash in on decent panfish action, too.
He says the crappies have just started to bite, and with the 70-degree weather this week, Foshaug expects to find schools of panfish in shallow water. He believes shallow water will be the best walleye option, too.
“I think it will be a pre-spawn bite and that means big walleyes in shallow water,” Foshaug said. “The night bite could also be very good on our shallow, prairie lakes.”
There is a lot more uncertainty in northern Minnesota. The Brainerd area seems to be sitting right along the state’s ice line, which means if you head 20 miles south there’s open water, but travel 20 miles north and you could encounter more ice than water.
Kevin Lempola of Delaney’s Sporting Goods in Park Rapids expects the rivers and some small lakes to be open by this weekend. But he won’t wager if the bigger lakes such as Fish Hook, Island, and Itasca – typically productive opening day lakes – will be ice-free.
He says anglers should focus their walleye attention to the rivers or mouths of rivers in this area. As of Monday, the walleyes had yet to move into these areas, but the warm temperatures this week could change that by opening day.
“Guys can find spots to fish, it just might not be where they would normally go,” Lempola said. “Our best walleye fishing will be the week after the opener, through Memorial Day, and into June – that’s when it will be awesome.”
Here is the status of some of the state’s more noted walleye lakes to the north as of Monday afternoon for this weekend’s opener.
- Winnibigoshish: Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge on the north end of the lake took pictures of people ice fishing on Monday morning. The rivers are flowing so there could be some limited fishing options, but most of the lake is expected to be ice-covered.
- Cass: The only hope of fishing open water will take place in the rivers or river channels between the lakes throughout the Cass Chain. Al Ruzec of Sunset Cove Resort doesn’t expect main-lake fishing to be an option on Cass.
- Mille Lacs: The shorelines, bays, and flowage areas are starting to open. Terry Thurmer of Terry’s Boat Harbor says there was “ice as far as you could see” Monday afternoon on the main lake. It’s possible the warm weather this week could allow for some boat fishing near shore.
- Upper Red: It doesn’t look very promising for open water by this weekend. The shorelines were just starting to pull away, but main-lake ice was solid.
- Leech: Jack Shriver of Shriver’s Bait in Walker didn’t think the opener would happen. He’s looking at the week after opening weekend to kick off the open-water season.
- Lake of the Woods: The main lake remained locked tight. The Rainy River and Four Mile Bay are open and should provide excellent walleye action. Brian Ney of Adrian’s Resort said he wouldn’t be surprised if people walked on the main lake and fished through the ice on opening day.