Friday, July 12th, 2024

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Friday, July 12th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Odd spring bodes well for early-summer anglers in Minnesota this year

Keegan, left, and Paul Stromberg, of Iron, Minn., pose with the 39-inch northern pike Keegan caught while fishing Lax Lake in Lake County on June 14. (Contributed photo)

Waskish, Minn. — As Minnesota anglers transition into the summer fishing season, there still seems to be a hint of spring in the air – and water – with what’s going on as far as fish-producing angling patterns across the state.

Despite record early ice-out dates and an extremely warm March, much of April and May remained relatively cool. Now, into the third week of June and a little more than one month into the game-fish season, fish activity has been all over the place. It’s been quite a spring.

There have been some exceptional walleye bites and some that have been below expectations, at least based on past years’ performances during the same time frame.

Bass and panfish don’t seem to know what to do as far as the spawn, continuing to move in and out of shallow spawning locations in many areas. Some anglers wonder if these species will even pull off a marginally successful spawn this year thanks to up-and-down water temperatures.

Upper Red

Upper Red Lake seems to be a prime example of what’s been a strange first few weeks of the walleye season. Typically a slam dunk right out of the gate on opening day, it’s taken a while for Upper Red’s walleyes to really start feeding.

Upper Red Lake is typically one of the most popular walleye waters in Minnesota right out of the gate. (Contributed photo)

According to Scott Waldo, of West Wind Resort on the east shore of the lake, the water temperature on Upper Red has just recently approached the 70-degree mark. Strong winds at the front end of the season also limited angling activity; there were many days anglers simply couldn’t safely get onto the lake. But everything seems to be headed in the right direction now.

“We started slowly. Wind has been an issue, and it’s taken longer than usual for the water to warm up. It wasn’t as good in May as last year,” Waldo said. “It’s hard to say what happened. Given the early spring, we should have been ahead of schedule, but the lake is fishing like it’s behind schedule.”

Waldo added that just lately – the past week or so – walleye action noticeably has accelerated. Traditional spring presentations such as the jig and minnow remain in play and continued to produce the majority of walleyes this past week. But crawlers, leeches, and crankbaits also are producing walleyes.

“These walleyes have not been overly pressured. It’s been a weird start,” Waldo said. “Minnows are still working, and these fish are still in shallow water (and) the word is just starting to get out.”


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Fast starts on other walleye fisheries

Reports from some of the state’s other large, more noted walleye fisheries have been much better to start the season. Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Lake Vermilion, Lake Mille Lacs, and Lake Winnibigoshish have all provided solid walleye action since opening day.

Arguably the best of the group has been Mille Lacs. While the catch-and-release-only designation likely has kept some anglers from fishing it, those who have are finding the walleye bite to be off-the-charts good most days.

Smallmouth bass have bitten consistently over the shallow rocks throughout Mille Lacs.

Smallmouth bass also have bitten consistently over the shallow rocks throughout Mille Lacs. Both fish species have just started transitioning into more of a summer pattern, but that’s not to say you won’t still find plenty of walleyes and smallies in shallow to mid-range depths, too.

“Mille Lacs has been incredible, and even with the early ice-out, water temps are still in the mid to upper 60-degree range,” said Tony Roach of Roach’s Guide Service on Monday afternoon. “It’s the best lake in the state right now for numbers and quality. It’s been fantastic walleye fishing.”

Last year, Lake Winnibigoshish could have taken top honors for the best walleye bite during the first month of the season. Those fish bit right out of the gate and didn’t seem to slow down much as the season wore on.

This year also has been good, but not quite as good as last spring. But again, the walleye bite from opening day 2023 through the middle of June was as consistent as most anglers have ever experienced on Big Winnie.

Jig-and-minnow bite

That shallow jig-and-minnow bite has been productive to start the year, as it always seems to be, but there have been more walleyes pulled from deep water up to this point, at least compared with most years. That, according to Tyler Croaker, of Nodak’s Lodge on the south shore of Winnie, is happening due to increasingly clearer water.

“We’ve had consistent walleye action, but compared to last year, it’s been down a bit, although last year up to this point was insanely good,” Croaker said. “There are still shiners along the shorelines, and everyone seems to be catching some fish. But the people who have been willing to change and fish deeper, 30 to 40 feet, are catching more walleyes and much earlier than normal.”

Croaker added that minnows still are producing walleyes along the shoreline breaks during windy and cloudy conditions. But if the sky is clear, pitch a slip bobber and leech in order to get your presentation away from the boat – in both shallow and deep water.

Crappies and smallmouth bass still haven’t spawned in this area, which is quite a bit later than most years. (File photo by Steve Carney)
Ely area

In the Ely area, water levels have been rising given consistent rains of late, and the water is still cool – at least cooler than it should be this time of year. That’s meant some spring-like fishing opportunities well into June and likely beyond.

Generally, anglers were still fishing for walleyes early this week where they were on opening day. That means in less than 15 feet and as shallow as 5 feet, with lakes such as Shagawa and Fall standing out for walleyes.

Crappies and smallmouth bass still haven’t spawned in this area, which is quite a bit later than most years. Overall, everything has come up diamonds for anglers in the area.

“High water and cool water has kept walleyes shallow and active. It’s been really good here,” said Steve Renneberg, owner of Arrowhead Outdoors in Ely. “There’s still a good supply of minnows and leeches to be had, crappies are jet black, which means they probably haven’t spawned, and smallmouth haven’t, either. It’s just been really good fishing.”

Central Minnesota

Josh Hagemeister, of Minnesota Fishing Guide Service, has had a busy, but different, spring on the water. He’s had clients on lakes in the Otter Tail area, in the central part of the state, near Park Rapids and Motley, and just about everywhere in between. Walleyes, bass, and panfish have all been part of the daily routine.

But Hagemeister is still catching panfish and bass with eggs in them in most areas he’s been fishing. Some of his best crappie bites of late have included egg-filled fish in 12 to 15 feet – nowhere near where they should be spawning.

He says some anglers have struggled with the strange set of circumstances. Many people are looking to book trips just to “figure out what the hell is going on.” In his estimation, summer patterns are just starting to develop, which means good fishing should continue in the weeks ahead.

“Things are progressing, but it seems like it’s taking forever to develop this spring. I really think we’ll see the first concrete summer patterns for all (fish) species about the first week of July,” he said. “It’s been a strange year. Just a lot of moving around, fish are shallow and then deep, but they don’t seem to be sticking to the same spot – at least not quite yet.”

Water temperatures are lower in the west-central region than they normally are this time of year, which seems to have extended local walleye bites. (Stock photo)

In the west-central part of the state, walleye-fishing activity typically starts to slow down about the middle of June. But that hasn’t been the case up to this point, according to Brock Douma, owner of Last Cast Bait and Tackle in Starbuck.

Water temperatures are also lower in this region than they normally are this time of year, which seems to have extended local walleye bites.

As they are in other locations, panfish and bass are also doing strange things in this area.

“The lakes have remained cooler than last year, so the walleye fishing has been much more consistent, better than it should be for the middle of June,” Douma said. “I mean, some of the smaller lakes are still producing walleyes, and crappies are still moving in and out of the shallows. Even more weird, we’re catching sunfish in 15 feet of water. It has to all be water temp driven.”

The south

In southern Minnesota, anglers in the Fairmont area have dealt with an abundance of curlyleaf pondweed and more vegetation than in recent memory. High water also has been an issue, and this past week’s rains certainly haven’t helped.

Justin Sommer, of Sommer Outdoors in Fairmont, said early this week that most lakes in Martin County were in a no-wake designation, which was lifted last Friday. More rain this week likely means that will again be implemented.

But despite the weeds and high water, fishing in this stretch near the Minnesota/Iowa border hasn’t been that bad. Bluegills and crappies have been keeping local anglers busy, while a high yellow bass population in local lakes has drawn the interest of visiting folks.

“It’s been an OK fishing season up to this point, just different. We’ve been fishing holes in the matted weeds for panfish, almost like you’d fish for bass,” Sommer said.

“My local people are over the yellow bass thing (and) a lot of them are going to other places to fish, but people from out of town are fishing them. They’re all over and really aggressive, so it can be hard at times to fish for sunfish and crappies,” he said.

For more on fishing activity as well as current water levels across the state, check out the Minnesota fishing report from Outdoor News.

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