The stars are aligning for what might be an excellent Minnesota fishing opener come Saturday.
Among those stars: a somewhat later fishing opener by the calendar. A timely walleye spawning run. And decent weather over the past week, which will boost water temperatures.
Granted, it all comes down to weather on opening day. But if you’re an angler, you’re optimistic by nature.
Here’s the outlook from fisheries managers around northern Minnesota:
Duluth area, St. Louis River
Superior fishing guide Chris Edquist said he expects opening weekend to be good for walleye anglers on the St. Louis River. He doesn’t think the walleyes will be concentrated upriver near the Minnesota Highway 23 bridge, as they are in some years.
“Water temps were 48 to 50 in the channel even before this warm weather (of the past week),” Edquist said. “I think the fish will be spread out quite nicely, kind of like last year.”
He suspects the walleye spawning occurred in a couple of stages.
“There should be a good push of fish done spawning and feeding heavily,” he said, “and another push, a week or so later, of fish moving downstream.”
Baitfish should also be benefiting from a warmer river, Edquist said.
“I’m assuming the shiners and other minnows are doing well in the shallow areas,” he said.
Deserae Hendrickson, DNR area fisheries supervisor at French River, said the walleye spawning was a little ahead of normal on the river this spring. Heavy rains a couple of weeks ago brought water levels and turbidity up, but as of Thursday the river was down to normal levels for this time of year, Hendrickson said.
Anglers who want to fish Island Lake for the opener will be happy to know the reservoir is at full summer level, Hendrickson said. Often at this time of year, the reservoir is low and boaters are concerned about damaging boat motors.
Grand Rapids area
“The fish are right where they should be,” said Dave Weitzel, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “They should be through spawning. This nice weather should benefit fishermen quite a bit. The water temperatures are in the low 50s already. That really kick-starts (walleye) metabolism. They should be hungry when opener comes around.”
The walleye egg-taking operation on Little Cut Foot Sioux Lake occurred at the typical time, he said. Walleye numbers remain good on nearby Lake Winnibigoshish, Weitzel said.
“We’re anticipating a good year out there,” he said. “It’s a very healthy population with a good mix of sizes.”
The protected slot limit on Big Winnie was changed last year to 18 to 23 inches (from the previous 17 to 26 inches), allowing anglers to keep a few more fish both below and above the slot limit. “Just talking to resort owners, we suspect there was more harvest last year,” Weitzel said.
His tip for the opener: “Best bets will be shallower, more productive lakes, especially lakes with stained water color that warms up sooner. Lakes like Bowstring, Split Hand, Winnie. Lakes like Pokegama and Trout will be better by the first week of June.”
International Falls area
Up north, the ice was in no hurry to depart, said Kevin Peterson, DNR area fisheries supervisor at International Falls. It left much of Rainy Lake early this past week. Some Rainy Lake walleyes spawn in creeks, and those fish had been spawning already, Peterson said Wednesday. But the walleyes that spawn on shoals in Rainy Lake were just starting to spawn, he said.
“Rainy is a large, deep lake,” Peterson said. “It takes a while to warm up and get that whole food chain in action. However, anglers who target moving water and some of these shallow bays can find success on the opener.”
The slot limit on Rainy has been changed, effective March 1. Now it’s a protected slot from 18 to 26 inches. In the past, it had been 17 to 28 inches.
The DNR takes walleye eggs at the Pike River where it enters Lake Vermilion, and this year saw a concentrated run. Fisheries staff collected all the eggs they needed in five days in mid-April, though a couple of those days were pretty long, said Edie Evarts, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Tower.
“Hopefully they’ll be turned on and hungry by the opener,” Evarts said.
The walleye population will benefit from the 2012 year class, now 4-year-olds, she said.
“We’re anticipating our 2012 year class will be desirable for anglers,” Evarts said. “They were 12 or 13 inches long last fall. They’re coming into the size anglers want. They’re abundant on both ends of the lake. That’ll be good, especially on the western end where we haven’t seen such good year classes.”
Upper Red Lake
Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji, says walleyes from the 2011 and 2013 hatches are particularly strong on Upper Red. The older fish are 15 to 18 inches, he said, while the 2013 walleyes are 13 to 15 inches. Anglers this spring can keep three walleyes on Upper Red, Barnard said, with one longer than 17 inches in the bag.
Early in the season, Barnard said, he expects the walleyes on Upper Red to be hanging out near the first break line, where the water drops from 3 feet to about 6 feet.
At that point, it’s as simple as tossing out a jig and minnow or dunking a minnow below a bobber, Barnard said; no need to get too fancy.
The Tamarack River also looks to be a good bet for the opener. The river, which flows into Upper Red at Waskish, Minn., is high and fast from recent rains.
Bottom line, the opening day outlook for Upper Red has never been better.
Several good year classes in recent years have bolstered the Leech Lake walleye population, said Doug Schultz, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Walker, Minn.
“The walleye population is in great shape,” Schultz said. “It should be a good season. We have a full range of sizes out there, based on what we saw in our winter creel survey. Only one in four fish (in the survey) was a slot fish.”
Leech Lake has a 20- to 26-inch protected slot for walleyes with a bag limit of four and one walleye over 26 inches allowed in possession.
Ice went out about a week ahead of normal, Schultz said, and walleye spawning wrapped up last weekend.
Perch numbers remain low, however, Schultz said.
Ice is off the lakes along the Gunflint Trail, including both Gunflint and Saganaga lakes.
“Our ice (on Gunflint) has been off for about two weeks,” Shari Baker of Gunflint Pines Resort said Thursday. “Water levels are high.”
That’s earlier than usual for ice-out on Gunflint Lake. Ice usually leaves Gunflint the first week of May, Baker said, but the ice formed late this past winter and didn’t get as thick as in many years.
“Fishing should be better in May than it usually is,” she said. “Memorial Day is when it usually starts to get good.”
Ice went out on much of Saganaga Lake last weekend, said Claudia Blake of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp.
Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald contributed information on Upper Red Lake to this report.