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Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Anglers have reason for high hopes entering Minnesota’s May 11 fishing opener

Ah, the great feeling of relief and satisfaction when a game fish is flopping in a net. Thousands of Minnesotans will be on the water for Saturday’s fishing opener, hoping to not only wet a line, but to wet a net, too. Despite wet, cool, and windy spring weather, fishing prospects appear favorable. Happy 2024 Fishing Opener to all. (Stock photo)

Crosby, Minn. — Anticipation for this year’s Minnesota fishing opener Saturday appears more amped than in recent years. But that’s to be expected, given that most anglers had few chances to wet a line last winter due to poor ice conditions statewide. Meanwhile, a wet and often windy spring has limited crappie-fishing opportunities.

Opening weekend weather looks good – 60 degrees and sunshine for the opener in most locations. Live-bait supplies are in much better shape than they were the previous two opening days, and, according to the DNR, fishing license sales (through the weekend prior to the fishing opener) were up 7% compared with a year ago.

In addition, walleyes and every other fish species should be available in high numbers; fish populations certainly didn’t get dented much this past winter. And, the walleye spawn is complete in most locations, which means they should be hungry, willing participants on opening day.

“I think it’s going to be an awesome opener. Barring some type of wind event, the weekend weather looks solid, so I expect a lot of people to go fishing,” said Jesse Williams, of Oars ’N Mine Bait and Tackle in Crosby. “People are champing at the bit to get out. I mean, they really got at it around here with the nice weather last weekend.”

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April weather’s impact

In most areas, the ice left Minnesota lakes much earlier than normal, which usually means walleyes tend to be more spread out by the time opening day arrives. But Mother Nature evened everything out after an unusually balmy month of March.

Much of April was cool and wet, ultimately slowing progression in lakes and providing a mostly normal set of circumstances as far as water temperature and fish movement. In short, everything mostly is set up as normal for this time of year.

Water temperatures have been fluctuating up and down all spring, somewhere in the 48- to 55-degree range depending on location. That bodes well for opening-day walleye-fishing success.

“For as quick and early as the ice went out, I was thinking this year’s fishing opener was going to be more like the (lake) conditions we usually see around Memorial Day,” Williams said. “Everything seems to have balanced out, although there is a bit more vegetation growing already than we normally see this time of year.”

Early vegetation
Areas with healthy weeds should be good spots to target for walleyes this weekend. (Photo courtesy of DAIWA)

Mike Witt, of Quality Bait and Tackle in Detroit Lakes, is also seeing more green weeds developing earlier than usual in his area.

He believes that vegetation could be a key to catching opening-day walleyes, especially if it’s bright and calm, because many lakes are clearer now than ever throughout the area.

Witt suggests fishing extremely shallow at night; walleyes are still going to be there. Then anglers should move to the developing aquatic plants by day. Current edges or river mouths will also hold walleyes, but Witt says to look to the deep side of them, again due to clear water.

“We have early weed growth, and I really think if you can find walleyes in the weeds, you’re probably going to do well,” he said. “People are antsy. They want to get out and fish, and nice weather always helps, so I figure anyone who fishes is going to be out on Saturday.”

The classic walleye fisheries

On the state’s large, classic walleye fisheries such as Cass, Winnibigoshish, Leech, and Mille Lacs, walleyes should be set up in their usual opening-day locations. According to northern Minnesota fishing guide Tom Neustrom, that means shallow sand, points, and shoreline breaks.

But without a decent wind or some clouds, Neustrom said anglers might not want to spend the entire day in shallow water. Clear water has also become the norm on the aforementioned big lakes, and with the usual opening-day traffic, it could be worth looking a bit deeper than normal.

“Walleyes are going to be shallow, 6 to 12 feet, especially early and late in the day,” Neustrom said. “But as the day wears on, I wouldn’t be afraid to get out in that 12- to 18-foot range. That water has really cleared up.”

Live-bait supply

In much of the state, the standard jig and minnow will be the presentation of choice. Leeches likely will come into play the farther south you travel, with water temperatures slightly higher than they’ll be in the north country.

There don’t seem to be any issues with the state’s live-bait supply heading into opening day. Spot-tailed shiner minnows will be available – indeed, more than 2023 at this time, for anglers in northern Minnesota.

With a couple of days of sunshine and warmer weather leading up to the fishing opener, spottails will start to run more consistently, likely providing a bounty of the coveted early-season walleye bait.

“There’s already spottails around – not many, but they started trickling in last Sunday when it got warm,” said Bill Powell, of Fred’s Live Bait in Deer River, on Monday afternoon. “Leeches are coming in big bunches, and they’re really nice leeches this year. Minnow supplies also look good. Most places should have just about any type of minnow you want, and you should be able to find some spottails.”

Multi-species opportunities

This also is a fishing opener that likely will provide some excellent multi-species fishing options. If the walleye bite isn’t happening, pull into a bay or harbor or set up along a dock and look for panfish.

While walleyes typically are the targets of open-day anglers in Minnesota, there’s a host of other fish – including crappies – that just might be more willing to bite if the state fish fails to cooperate. Most experts agree that walleye anglers should start their searches in shallow water this year. (Photo by Tim Spielman)

With water temperatures fluctuating during the past couple of weeks, crappies have been moving in and out of traditional, shallow spring spots. They aren’t close to spawning in most parts of the state, but they are in shallow water, feeding prior to it, and they should be shallow this weekend.

Again, water temperatures probably won’t be much above 55 degrees anywhere – possibly in the far south but cooler to the north – and crappies don’t spawn until the water starts to hit the 60-degree mark. They will, however, stay shallow and feed as the water warms.

“Crappie fishing would be an excellent Plan B in most areas, and they should be in less than 6 feet of water,” Witt said.

Update from the south

In the southern reaches of the state, water temperatures were in the low to mid-50-degree range early this week, according to Justin Sommer, of Sommer Outdoors in Fairmont.

Sommer also anticipates a good start to the walleye season. He said the DNR, local lake associations, and several conservation groups have increased walleye stocking in many lakes throughout the area since the pandemic.

Crappie and yellow bass action also was going strong early this week, and Sommer has heard about quite a few walleye catches on panfish gear, adding optimism heading into opening day.

“I expect it to be better than usual. There have been a lot of incidental walleyes caught by panfish anglers,” he said. “The males were still milking last week. That usually bodes well for opening day.”

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