Cold spring a drag on fish license sales

St. Paul — The sales of fishing licenses are well off their normal pace so far this year, but officials aren’t exactly scratching their heads trying to figure out the reason. Anyone who’s stepped outside a few times – or even simply looked out the window – knows the answer: the weather.

Sometimes it’s warm out, sometimes it’s cold. Oftentimes it’s raining, and sometimes it’s storming. It’s so far not been a spring that screams for people to hit the water.

“At this point, we see (the decline in fishing license sales) largely as the result of an exceptionally cold spring and very cool early summer,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR Fisheries section chief. “We’re hoping that as we get into a warmer period here we see sales pick up.”

As of June 1, which includes sales over Memorial Day weekend, anglers had bought a total of 469,751 licenses. That compares with 596,163 at the same time last year – which was a very warm and early spring – and 537,796 at the same time in 2011.

While sales for most license categories are down, those for resident individual angling licenses are especially down – 188,418 this year, compared with 257,553 at the same time last year. Sales of nonresident licenses are down, too, but not to the same extent.

“We still have the potential to catch up, but summer needs to show up soon,” said Ed Boggess, director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division.

The agency typically sells about one-third of its annual number of fishing licenses before the fishing opener. But this year, many of the state’s best walleye lakes were locked in ice on the opener and beyond.

But there might be a shift taking place. Last Saturday in northern Minnesota was “beautiful,” and the weather was nice earlier this week, too. The forecast also calls for warm temperatures.

“Action is picking up, let’s say,” said Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji. “I think people are starting to believe we’ll have a summer. I think we’re going to do some catching up.”

But it’s not just the weather.

“The fishing is outstanding right now, and that word is starting to spread,” said Drewes, who ticked off good bites on Upper Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, Leech Lake, and Lake Winnibigoshish. “I think people are going to get after it. We’re going to make up some ground.”

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