Walleye opener: slow, slow, slow

Park Rapids, Minn. — Twenty-five minutes into the 2013 season, Gov. Mark Dayton, fishing during the Governor’s Fishing Opener, got the walleye monkey off his back.

Many other fishermen in the state weren’t so lucky.

Between ice, wind, and low temperatures – air and water alike – last weekend’s walleye opener was something of a non-event.

“What walleye opener?” said John Store, who owns Quality Bait and Tackle in Detroit Lakes, where many lakes lost their ice on Saturday. “There were a few fish caught, but very few.”

There was nothing but open water farther to the south, but the opener was about the same.

“Overall, it was a bust,” said Brad Foshaug, who owns Brad’s 71 Bait and Sports in Willmar. “It was the worst opener I have ever had – business-wise and fishing-wise.”

And moving even farther down the state: “There was probably about half (the traffic) as last year’s opener,” said Justin Sommer, who owns Sommer Outdoors in Fairmont. “It’s just a weird year. People don’t even seem like they are ready to go out yet.”

DNR fishing license sales data seem to back that up. As of last Friday, the agency had sold 217,626 fishing licenses, compared with 348,879 at the same time last year. It’s about 40,000 fewer licenses than they’d bought at the same time in 2011, and easily the lowest pre-opener sales in more than a decade.

Thanks to a cold spring, many of the walleye powerhouses in the state still had a layer of ice on them last weekend, leaving anglers without a spot to fish, or sending them to rivers or streams (those that weren’t closed to protect spawning walleyes, anyway).

That’s not to say everyone had a tough time.

Around the Mankato area, anglers did well on the Blue Earth and Minnesota rivers, and on Hanska and Washington lakes.

“The people were around,” said Paul Rosenberg, owner of the Bobber Shop in Mankato. “We didn’t have any leeches on Friday; the shortage of bait was tough.”

That was another common theme throughout the state. While some places had shiners and some had leeches, it was a hit-or-miss scenario, depending on the area.

“Minnows are next to impossible to get around here for fishing,” said Nate Blasing, who guides with S&W Guide Service in the Brainerd area. “There are a few leeches.”

Blasing, who fished the St. Louis River on the opener – his group caught two walleyes and had “very tough fishing” – was back around the Brainerd area on Sunday and Monday.

Male walleyes still seemed to be spawning, females had dropped their eggs, and the fish were hitting in 3 to 8 feet of water.

“And they’ve been really aggressive when they hit,” Blasing said.

In the metro area, the walleyes just got done spawning, said Bob Sonenstahl, owner of Wayzata Bait & Tackle. He heard of three fish caught on the opener.

“It was the quietest opener I’ve had in 40 years – by far,” he said.

The story was the same in the Alexandria area, where, “It was so windy up here it was tough to fish out of a boat,” said Travis DeWitt, of Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle.

“I’ve never seen an opener this slow, and I’ve been here seven years,” he said. “Just a few guys were catching walleyes up shallow in the current or on rocks. But it was tough. Guys would go out and come back in and say they didn’t get a single bite.”

Following are conservation officer reports from across the state:

  • Success varied on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, but fish tended to be of quality size.
  • Low temperatures, high winds, and ice conspired to make it a tough opener around Bemidji.
  • Pelican Rapids CO Gary Forsberg reports the opener was the quietest of his career. Anglers enjoyed spotty success, and river fishermen did best.
  • The Rainy Lake opener was slow; most people stayed home.
  • Anglers in the Grand Rapids area did best on rivers; fishing on the lakes was difficult.
  • Some anglers caught a few walleyes in the Duluth area.
  • Carlton CO Scott Staples reported the slowest opener of his 15-year career. Some anglers hit the St. Louis River, but didn’t find much success.
  • Crosby-area anglers did their best to find open water, but most had little or no success when it came to catching walleyes.
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