Walleye and crappies reigned supreme in the lakes area during a cool, windy 2019 fishing opener, garnering mixed reviews from bait shops.
For Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait near North Long Lake north of Brainerd-Baxter, customers gravitated toward fathead and rainbow minnows, she said, as the best bite seemed to be a jig-and-minnow combination.
But sufficient amounts of bait have been hard to come by.
“We’re very short of bait, and it’s not just shiners,” Wicktor said Sunday afternoon. “Everybody notices the shiners, but yeah, it has been tough all weekend to get bait — from sucker minnows to crappie minnows to shiners.”
Cold water temperatures following a May snowfall hindered efforts over the weekend, too.
“Our water is very cold,” she said. “It’s too cold for the bait to run, and it’s way too cold for the fish to run.”
Sales were pretty good on Friday, Wicktor said, but not has high on Saturday.
“You could tell the fishing wasn’t that good. They didn’t need to come back for more bait,” she said, noting Sunday morning was better, with many anglers giving up on walleye and turning their sights to crappies due to the cold water and windy weather.
“That’s been fairly decent,” she said of the crappie fishing. “Otherwise, they’ve been getting a few walleyes — one or two, not a whole lot.”
Anglers on Mille Lacs Lake, however, had a much different story to tell.
“A lot of walleyes — I mean, a lot of walleyes,” Terry Thurmer, owner of Terry’s Boat Harbor in Garrison, said Sunday. “Fishing was really good for walleyes.”
Shiners, leeches and nightcrawlers were the main bait of choice for Thurmer’s customers, along with Rapalas for night trolling.
Luckily, he said his store had enough minnows and shiners to get through the weekend, though he’s not sure how the following week would shake out.
Weather proved to be good enough, too.
“It doesn’t seem like the amount of people is affected,” Thurmer said. “It was better than the last few years when they couldn’t even keep a fish.”
In general, Thurmer said the fishing was excellent.
Tina Chapman, owner of Chapman’s Mille Lacs Resort and Guide Service, had a favorable report, too, noting all five of her cabins were full over the weekend, though they haven’t always been during openers in years past.
She said most of her guests were fishing of walleye and had some success.
“There were some keepers caught, some not. But people seemed happy,” Chapman said. “And there were of course people that didn’t catch fish, but that’s pretty typical.”
Along with walleye, bass were biting on Mille Lacs Lake, too, according to Jack Taylor, of Johnson’s Portside in Isle, but he agreed walleye were the big takeaway.
“I want to say this is a pretty decent fishing opener compared to other years,” Taylor said. “A lot of times fishing opener can be slow with water temperatures being cold and guys just having to figure out where to fish, but this year it seems like it started off pretty good.”
Taylor noted there was a little concern with having enough shiners, but he had plenty for all his customers who needed them.
After shiners, he said fathead minnows and leeches were the most popular in his area, with those luring fish all over the lake.
With the National Weather Service calling for temperatures in the high 60s and low to mid-70s, Wicktor was hopeful anglers in her area will have more success, creating the need for more bait.