DULUTH, Minn. — Jim Findley has a plan for Saturday’s Minnesota fishing opener. He had stopped by Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle north of Duluth on Thursday afternoon to pick up a couple dozen chubs.
The Lakewood Township angler is aware the forecast calls for cold weather on the opener.
“I’ll go to breakfast and wait until it warms up,” Findley said. “I’m an old guy. My hands freeze up right away. I’ll wait until the temperature goes up about 10 degrees.”
He’ll be out there, sooner or later on Saturday, along with several hundred thousand of Minnesota’s 1.1 million anglers, hoping to find some walleyes, northern pike or something else that will bite.
Steady traffic flowed in and out of Chalstrom’s and at Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake, Minn., on Thursday afternoon, but the real rush will come today and tonight as anglers head for the lakes.
Below-freezing temperatures forecast for dawn Saturday and chances of rain or snow shouldn’t faze most anglers, said Scott VanValkenburg at Fisherman’s Corner.
“We’re used to wearing our hats and hand warmers,” VanValkenburg said. “We’ll be all right.”
Crappie fishing — open all year — has been excellent in recent days on Duluth-area lakes, and bait shop owners are taking that as a sign the walleyes and northerns will bite on Saturday’s opener.
“My guess is it’s going to be a pretty decent opener,” said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom’s. “Lake levels (on reservoir lakes near Duluth) are up, so there should be a lot less problems at boat landings. And there’s no ice to deal with.”
VanValkenburg also is optimistic about the opener.
“The suckers were at the Fish Lake dam on Monday,” he said. “The suckers are spawning, so the walleyes are done. There was a guy on the St. Louis River trying out his boat, and he said he found walleyes (while fishing for crappies) on Arrowhead Flats and down below. They’re dispersing pretty quickly. That 80- and 90-degree weather changes things fast.”
Ben Kellin at Ben’s Bait in Grand Rapids says he’s hoping for the best while being wary of the forecast for cold, windy weather.
“Everything should be stacked up right other than a massive cold front,” Kellin said. “Typically, these early bites aren’t affected that much by the cold, but it has to slow things down a little bit.”
But Grand Rapids-area lakes are in good shape, Kellin said.
“Both Leech and Winnie (Winnibigoshish) seem to have the right year classes,” he said. “We should be seeing some 13- to 16-inch fish.”
Those fish would likely fall outside of protected slot limits, meaning the fish would potentially be eligible for the frying pan.
Duluth fishing guide Charlie Nelson will be on the St. Louis River on Saturday, where brisk northwest winds are forecast.
“I think the fish will be feeding on the flats,” Nelson said. “The water temps are in the high 50s to 60 degrees. The perch and shiners should be getting ready to spawn. With them being shallow and the walleyes having spawned a month ago, the shallow flats and the old weed beds will be where they’re concentrated.”
Early Thursday afternoon, David Schiele of Urbank’s Live Bait near Clitherall, Minn., wheeled his big rig full of oxygenated minnow tanks up to Chalstrom’s. Bait is in good supply this year, bait dealers say. After several thousand night crawlers had been unloaded, John Chalstrom began hauling five-gallon pails full of crappie minnows and chubs to bubbling tanks in the shop’s back room. Chalstrom’s young springer pup, Belle, tried to lick a smashed minnow from the concrete floor.
In the shop’s retail area, Gordon Larsen of Pequaywan Township had stopped in to buy a fishing license for himself and his wife.
“Now all I have to do is catch fish,” said Larsen, 74.
He doesn’t plan to fish the opener, however.
“It’s too cold,” he said. “I’m a fair-weather fisherman. I can go on Monday or Tuesday when no one else goes.”