Roach: Walleyes will be ‘looking to eat’

Merrifield, Minn. —  Everything appears to be lining up for a fine start to the 2016 walleye-fishing season on Saturday. Ice-out was slightly ahead of schedule in most areas, and the walleye spawn has been completed for some time now. That means the highly sought-after state fish should be fully recovered and a willing participants this weekend.

Surface water temperatures ranged from 50 to 58 degrees earlier this week across the state. It’s cooler to the north and slightly warmer to the south, and with some cooler – but closer to normal – air expected throughout the week, lake conditions shouldn’t change much.

It’s for all the aforementioned reasons that “Mr. Walleye,” Gary Roach, of Merrifield, expects a banner start to the walleye season. Unless the weather takes a major turn for the worse just before opening day – which wasn’t predicted early in the week – Roach expects anglers to fare well.

“I think it’s going to be super – it should be a dandy opener and the walleyes should be looking to eat,” Roach said Monday. “The weather looks good, with a slight breeze, but that won’t hurt. You need that.”

Around Roach’s home turf in north-central Minnesota, water temperatures should be ideal for consistent walleye action. In his estimation, 50- to 55-degree water is perfect for early season walleye activity, and that’s where it’s expected to be this weekend.

Roach also pointed out that crappies and bluegills have been biting well on most small, shallow lakes north of the Brainerd area. Roach has seen some early spawning beds being made by bass as well, which means there should be plenty of fish-catching options for anglers.

For walleyes, minnows presented on a jig or live-bait rig should be standard presentations in most areas. But with a slight spike in water temperature in the days leading up to the opener, Roach said anglers shouldn’t overlook leeches, either.

“Walleyes are going to be shallow, 7 to 15 feet, as they are most years,” Roach said. “But from what I’ve seen with the panfish bite and water temps, it could be a bit more like Memorial Day weekend fishing as far as location and bait preference.”

Bait supplies looked good earlier this week, even for spottail shiner minnows, which tend to be the most popular bait across the northern part of the state early in the year.

According to Denny Fletcher, of Fletcher’s Bait in Sauk Centre, two warm days late last week pushed spottails shallow and allowed them to be trapped. But they seemed to have moved out again earlier this week, so Fletcher isn’t sure what the shiner supply will be up north.

“The minnow thing should be fine. I have spottails, and all other minnow options should be available,” he said. “It’s possible there’s going to be fewer spottails north of me, so if you find some, I’d buy them.”

Ben Kellin, owner of Ben’s Bait and Tackle in Grand Rapids, knows how important spottail shiners are to anglers in the northern part of the state on opening day. While he admittedly started to hit the panic button last week due to the lack of shiners, it got just warm enough for them to run, and he thinks there should be enough spottails for everyone on opening day.

“We have full tanks, so the shiner supply should be fine on the opener, and if we have them, other places should too,” Kellin said. “After opening weekend, it’s hard to say. If it stays cool, they might move out again and the supply could run thin.”

Anglers in the southern part of the state should also expect to find good conditions for consistently putting walleyes in the boat. Jeff Byrne, owner of Cabin Fever Sporting Goods in Victoria, has already heard from anglers – those in search of catfish or panfish – who have accidentally caught fair numbers of walleyes.

He also agrees that this fishing opener is set up to offer something for everybody. From panfish to walleyes, he expects a good start to the season.

“With water temperatures as they are (upper 50-degree range) and the weather forecast sounding decent, we should see a little bit of everything caught,” Byrne said. “This is one of those years where you can get your walleyes early and then get the kids out and catch a bunch of sunfish and crappies.”

License sales up

The DNR reports an impressive increase in fishing license sales, at least through the Friday prior to the opener, from last year.

A year ago, about 287,000 angling licenses of various sorts had been sold by the Friday a week prior to the opener. This year, about 305,000 total licenses already had been sold, about 6 percent over last year’s sales at the same time.

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