Published May 23, 2011, 12:00 AM

Anglers enjoy Wisconsin fishing opener

No other boats were in sight when Jarrid Houston’s family and friends left the dock on the Minong Flowage a little after 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 14.

By: Sam Cook / Forum Communications Co., INFORUM

On the Minong Flowage, Wis. - No other boats were in sight when Jarrid Houston’s family and friends left the dock on the Minong Flowage a

little after 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 14.

That’s the way Houston, a South Range fishing guide, liked it. He wanted to beat the crowd on this opening day of the Wisconsin inland fishing season.

“By 9 o’clock, I’ll bet there will be 50 boats out here,” Houston said.

But then, if you know Houston, you know that when he goes fishing, he likes to make a full day of it. He and friend Tim Ahlgren, 25, of Osceola, Wis., idled up alongside an island in this flowage lake on the Totagatic River and began pitching 1/16th-ounce jigs tipped with minnows.

They were after walleyes, of course. They figured to land a few northern pike and crappies along the way. This was their third year in a row opening on the Minong Flowage, a tannin-stained lake that is just 10 feet deep across most of its breadth.

“They say this lake is home to 10,000 stumps – and 10,000 Rapalas,” Houston said.

Several other members of the Houston family and their friends were fishing alongside in two other boats. The Wisconsin fishing opener is one of four “holidays” Houston celebrates each year.

“The Wisconsin opener. The Minnesota opener. The Wisconsin deer opener. And the first day of ice fishing,” Houston said.

He quickly had the first fish of the day, a micro-walleye that he tossed back. Walleyes must be 15 inches long to keep on this flowage, and anglers may keep just two each.

A loon called. A bald eagle swooped down to snag a fish. One by one, other boatloads of anglers made their way onto the flowage.

It was a lovely day to be fishing again. A brilliant sunrise gave way to early-morning clouds, which eventually yielded to full sun. The temperature rose from 38 to the mid-60s. After a cold, wet spring, it felt decadent to be sitting in a boat and letting the BTUs melt through your layers.

The fishing would prove to be tough on this opener. Ahlgren put a nearly 16-inch walleye in the boat, soon landed a keeper crappie, and eventually caught an almost-15-inch walleye. The last one went back to the lake. All of the fish came on chartreuse jigs tipped with fathead minnows.

The other members of the party were faring about the same, and anglers in other boats couldn’t find the answer, either. We saw only two other anglers reach for landing nets in five-plus hours on the water.

None of this dissuaded Houston, a perennial fishing optimist.

“I’m fully confident we’ll have four walleyes in the livewell by day’s end,” he said.

Those who follow the fishing industry say young people just aren’t coming into the sport in big numbers anymore. But Houston and Ahlgren contradict that trend. The pair planned to put in a good 14 hours on this opener, and another 14 on Amnicon Lake in Douglas County the next day.

“You’ve got to be there when the opportunity presents itself,” Houston said.

He had slept just “an hour or two” the night before the opener, he said. He was too excited to sleep.

“I’ll admit it,” he said. “I’m totally addicted to fishing. I have a walleye tattoo on my leg.’”

Houston holds down a full-time engineering job, but he guides and fishes as much as he can – about 60 days a summer. He ticked off his all-time favorite walleye waters: Lake Plantagenet near Bemidji, Duluth-Superior’s St. Louis River, Upper Lake St. Croix, Lake Nebagamon and anywhere on the St. Croix River.

The walleyes weren’t cooperating on this morning of the opener, but the day promised other redeeming elements. At midday, the Houston clan would gather for brats and beverages at Totagatic County Park on the shores of the Minong Flowage.

“We’re having beer, some brats, and we’re fishing. It’s a perfect Wisconsin opener,” Houston said.

Sam Cook is the outdoors writer for

the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune,

a Forum Communications newspaper