In Minnesota on Opening Day, you might catch a limit of walleyes and you might not.
But for sure, you’ll feel better for trying.
Just ask the state’s most famous walleye fisherman, Al Lindner.
“When I got back from Vietnam in the 1960s and my brother, Ron, and I were looking for a place to move to and set up a fishing guide business and perhaps a bait shop, we came to Brainerd from Wisconsin,’’ Lindner said.
“Opening Day in Minnesota amazed me then and it still amazes me. Wisconsin has an Opening Day. But the enthusiasm isn’t there the way it is in Minnesota, where people come out in droves to participate.’’
Participate they will again on Saturday, when fishing for walleyes and northern pike — and in some parts of the state, bass — begins anew for another season.
In anticipation, bait will be bought by the bucketful, outboards that haven’t been started since last summer will be fired up, boats old and new will be floated … and hopes among the masses will never be higher.
One could argue, in fact, that in this state, happiness is best achieved, and most reliably sustained, by dropping a jig-and-minnow combination into about 14 feet of water and waiting for the distinctive tug that signals a walleye has taken the bait.
That should happen a lot beginning Saturday, said Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager stationed in Bemidji who oversees some of the state’s best walleye lakes: Upper Red, Cass and Leech.
“I would be shocked if fishing isn’t good on opening weekend,’’ Drewes said. “Our water temperatures are going to be in the mid-50s, and a demarcation for us that typically separates good openers from slower openers is 50-degree water.’’
Drewes predicts the walleye bite will be good on all three of the large lakes in his region, including on Upper Red, where anglers will be greeted by three-walleye limits, with two fish under 17 inches allowed, and one over 17 inches.
“This is the first time we’ve used this type of harvest restriction on one of our major walleye lakes,’’ Drewes said. “The intent is to spread the harvest over a broader size-range of fish.’’
Last fall, the DNR’s Leech Lake walleye survey recorded the lake’s fourth-highest walleye population, Drewes said. Anglers there will be allowed four walleyes, including one over 26 inches, with walleyes 20-26 inches protected.
Drewes said only a fourth of Leech Lake walleyes larger than 12 inches are in the protected slot, meaning plenty of keepers will be available for anglers.
Recent warm temperatures likely have advanced fish activity more than expected, based on this year’s ice-out dates, Drewes said, adding that panfish and bass have moved into the shallows in his area. Consequently, the walleye bite this weekend might more closely resemble the bite experienced by anglers in the third week of May or even on Memorial Day, both of which traditionally are prime times for walleye fishing — and catching — in the northern part of the state.
Bright business prospects
Katy Ebel also is hopeful for a good opener Saturday, and expects a great summer season to follow along the Minnesota-Ontario border.
With her son, Justin, Ebel operates Ebel’s Voyageur Houseboats (www.ebels.com) on the Ash River, a gateway to Lake Kabetogama and Voyageur’s National Park. This will be the first year she and Justin have operated the business without her husband, Joe, who died in October after a long illness.
“Joe and I bought the business from Joe’s parents, Gordy and Mary Lou, in 1983,’’ Ebel said.
Gordy Ebel was a retired Minnesota game warden — as conservation officers were known years ago.
In the 1960s, opening weekend of fishing on the state’s northern border was a big deal in the houseboat business, Ebel said. That’s less the case today, but “good’’ springs like the one this year are nonetheless important to Ebel’s operation.
“It makes everything a lot smoother to have the ice go out at a normal time,’’ Ebel said. “Typically, that leads to good fishing for customers who are up here. Also it’s easier to get our 20 boats into the water when we don’t have to deal with flooding due to a heavy snow melt.’’
Farther south, on the shores of Mille Lacs, Greg Fisher of Fisher’s Resort (www.fishersresort.com) also has been moving boats — specifically the three launches he uses to ferry anglers onto the Big Lake.
Obviously, Fisher said, summer 2016 will be a challenge for his business and others on Mille Lacs, because only catch-and-release walleye fishing will be allowed.
Still, excellent fishing is expected beginning Saturday, thanks to a 2013 year class of walleyes that might be one of the lake’s largest in history.
“Opening Day always has been a big deal, and it still will be this weekend,’’ Fisher said. “A guy gets more enthused when the weather warms and fishing begins. It gets you thinking more positive.’’
About 70 RVs parked year-round in a seasonal campground at Fisher’s will help support the operation until better walleye fishing returns.
Guide has options
Todd Stauffer, a metro guide (www.setthehookguide.com) who fishes with clients primarily on lakes Minnetonka and Waconia, typically is busiest not on Opening Day, but later, toward the end of May.
That’s when corporate clients send guests to him for a day’s casting and jigging.
“Mostly, people like to go when the weather is warmer, and sometimes that’s not on Opening Day,’’ he said. “We fish for multiple species: Bass. Northern pike. Also, occasionally, walleyes and muskies.’’
If Stauffer has no one booked on the season’s first day, that’s OK, he said.
“If I don’t have a client, I’ll fish with my son, Max,’’ Stauffer said. “Max is 17. He likes to fish, and I like to fish with him. But when I get busy in summer, we don’t get a chance to get out that much together.’’