Minnesota fishing opener: Don’t forget about the pike

Northern pike are a favorite species for anglers across Canada and much of the northern tier of the United States. But in Nevada, pike are an invasive species, and are treated as such.

PLYMOUTH, Minn. — There is a place not terribly far from here where northern pike are king.

Yes, there are plenty of walleyes in Ontario’s Lake Makoop, too. Few trophies, but they’re aggressive, have good size and there are lots of them — any lake in Minnesota would be lucky to have such a walleye population.

But anglers come to this Ontario lake for the world-class pike fishing — it’s been that way for as long as they’ve been doing fly-in fishing trips to Makoop. Big pike always trump big numbers of nice walleyes here, and it’s not even close.

But there are lakes in Minnesota that offer similar world-class pike possibilities, too. Yet, when the state’s open-water fishing season kicks off Saturday, May 13, most everyone who ventures out for “The Opener” will be in search of walleyes. It’s the way it has always been.

There are probably those who don’t even know that the pike season opens up along with walleyes (and saugers) on Saturday. But it does. Still, if you went by the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener event, an unofficial kickoff to the season (it’s on the Mississippi River near St. Cloud this year), you’d never know. The governor’s crew always targets walleyes.

Yes, the walleye is our state fish — an iconic symbol of Minnesota — and most will argue that it’s far better eating than pike; Minnesotans love to eat walleye.

And besides being more difficult to filet (or at least to filet properly) and, for many, not as tasty as walleye, there has been an explosion of hammer-handle pike — those about the size of a hammer handle — to fuel the anti-pike vibe in recent years. They can be a downright nuisance.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, too many of these fish — generally less than 22 inches long — in a lake can reduce perch numbers to unhealthy levels, tip the balance toward smaller panfish and reduce the effectiveness of walleye stocking, creating a double-whammy of sorts for reasons to dislike these pike.

While this has mostly been seen in north-central Minnesota lakes, these smaller pike are, to some extent, everywhere — all of those trophy-sized pike weren’t always trophy-sized; they were hammer-handles, too, at one time. (There were plenty of them in Makoop as well.)

And, as was the case at Makoop, many of the better walleye fisheries in Minnesota are also good pike lakes. In this state, that makes for a lot of possibilities.

If you do set out in search of pike Saturday (and beyond), or just happen to get into some while fishing walleyes and decide to hold onto them, know the rules.

Like with walleyes, the 2017-18 pike season runs from May 13, 2017 to Feb. 25, 2018 for inland waters, with a possession limit of 3, one of which can be over 30 inches long. But some lakes have their own special pike regs, so be aware. For example, on Lake of the Woods, the pike season never closes.

As the walleye season winds down on Lake of the Woods — more than a month after it does on inland waters — the big lake touts those year-round pike offerings (possession limit is also three, with one over 40 inches allowed; protected slot is 30-40 inches). And Lake of the Woods is one of the most impressive pike fisheries you’ll ever find.

Come Saturday, though, it likely will be all about the walleyes there, too. But for the few pike-fishing types, maybe that’s a good thing.

More northern pike for them.

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