Icy fishing opener poses challengesby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota's walleye fishing season begins Saturday at sunrise. A million anglers are expected to head out for the opener, but catching a walleye may be more challenging this year.
That's because the cold spring has delayed walleye spawning. Some rivers and streams are closed to fishing because spawning is still taking place. On other lakes the cold water could mean fish just aren't ready to bite. And it'll be hard to drop a line in some northern Minnesota lakes because they're still frozen solid.
St. Cloud, Minn. — Even seasoned fishing guides find it hard to remember the last time Minnesota saw such frigid water temperatures for the walleye opener.
"It was back when I was a kid, I want to say in the late 70s," said Dan Eigen, who runs a fishing guide service north of Brainerd. Everyone knows him as Walleye Dan.
Eigen expects by the morning of fishing opener, many walleye will be headed to shallow bays. That's because as the water starts to warm, he thinks that's where small fish will be, and the predator walleye will be after them.
But Eigen, who's been a professional fishing guide for nearly 20 years, admits there are many different opinions out there on how to catch the big one.
"This year there are so many variables and so many thoughts from so many different people," Eigen said. "You could talk to 10 people and get a lot of different theories."
Walleye Dan is under more pressure to catch his namesake fish this opener. He's the guide for Gov. Tim Pawlenty and and his wife Mary, who will fish on Pelican Lake near Breezy Point as part of the 60th annual governor's fishing opener. Eigen will have to cover more water than usual to find fish, but he's confident the governor will catch his walleye.
One advantage is that Pelican Lake - where the governor will fish - is ice free, unlike some lakes farther north.
"The lake isn't considered officially open but there's plenty of places to fish," said Woody Woods, owner of "Woody's Fairly Reliable Guide Service" on Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota.
Woods said while Rainy Lake is still mostly ice-covered, he'll be able to get customers into open water in some of the lake's ice-free bays and inlets. He plans on fishing deep water, where he thinks the walleye will be. Although Woods said anglers should bring something to keep themselves busy, just in case the bite is slow.
"They are going to catch walleyes, they're going to be fishing out in a little deeper water, but it never hurts to bring a cribbage board," said Woods.
Even with challenges caused by cold water and frozen lakes, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expects a million anglers for the fishing opener.
Lakes in the lower two thirds of the state are ice free. But DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer said anglers in northern Minnesota should check their favorite lake's status before Saturday.
"Folks are going to want to call ahead and make sure there's not big ice sheets on some of their favorite waters," said Payer. "And then also check on their accesses, because our crews aren't able to go in and adequately maintain boat accesses until the ice is off."
Adding to the off-limit areas is a decision by the DNR to close parts of some Bemidji area rivers to fishing where walleye are still spawning.
Payer doesn't think that's likely to dampen Minnesotans' enthusiasm for the yearly tradition.
But some anglers want nothing to do with the opening day scramble for walleye.
In a quiet bay on Gull Lake north of Brainerd. Gary Holman and Karen Owen are fishing off a small dock. Despite the cold water, they're having luck catching crappies and sunfish, which are in season now.
"We probably got about half a dozen or so, it's still slow but getting better," Holman said. "The water has got to warm up."
The couple loves to fish, and they love to catch walleye. They seem like the type who would be excited about Minnesota's fishing opener, but that's not the case.
"We've been doing it for too long, we gave that up a long time ago," said Holman.
Gary Holman and Karen Owen say they'll wait a few weeks before they head out in search of walleye. By then, they say the crowds will have thinned out, and the water will have warmed up, making for better fishing.
- Morning Edition, 05/09/2008, 7:20 a.m.