What will fishing be like when the walleye and northern pike seasons open Saturday? My bet: really good -- unless we're inundated with rain (or snow) and cold this week.
The five experts -- four of them guides -- whose opening-day predictions are detailed below generally agree. They are Spider Johnson from Upper Red Lake; Tony Roach from Mille Lacs; Mark Fisher from Rapala; Tom Neustrom and Jeff Sundin from the Winnie-Leech area; and Billy Dougherty from Rainy Lake.
Here are their outlooks:
Spider Johnson, Upper Red, 1-320-304-1617: "Walleyes will be where they are supposed to be, barring any unforeseen weather events between now and the opener. That means, on Upper Red, in four to eight feet of water.
"The early spring that much of the southern part of the state had won't have much effect on the placement of fish on the opener, I don't think. For one thing, there's a 30-day difference in the growing season between up here and in the south, and that plays a big role in water temperatures.
"If fishing on the opener and the days and weeks that follow occurs as I expect it will, it will be a continuation of the great winter fishing we had up here. This was by far the best winter I've had up here, although at times, nature threw a curve at us and it was hard to get onto the lake.
"Jig-and-a-minnow -- meaning a shiner -- is what I'll be using on opening day. I like the Northland Vegas jig. I'll start out with a one-eighth ounce. If I have to go a little heavier, I will."
Tony Roach, Mille Lacs, 763-226-6656: "I think the bite on Mille Lacs will be phenomenal this weekend. And unlike last spring, which was so cold, anglers this year will have lots of options in the places on the lake they can fish.
"If you don't want to, you won't have to be bunched in with the big flotillas.
"I would start not by fishing right away, but by using my graf and looking for fish first. I'd start shallow and work my way out to deeper water. Don't fish with the mindset that the fish will be in a particular place because that's where you caught them last year.
"The reason I think the bite will be so good is simple: From my perspective, this is the healthiest I've ever seen Mille Lacs. You can fish any give spot and catch anything from six- to eight-inch walleyes, all the way to 28-inch fish.
"Plus, the number of fish exceeding 28 inches, the real trophies, is increasing in the lake, I believe. In the last couple of years, a lot of those fish were 25 to 27 inches. Now, they're 28-plus.
"The key will be finding bait fish. Wherever you find them, you'll find walleyes. And because this year on Mille Lacs you'll be dealing with post-spawn fish, both male and female, you'll have options both on technique and location.
"I think on this opener you'll even find them on secondary break lines; the secondary structure where you might not find them on more typical openers."
Mark Fisher, Rapala director of field promotions: "My bet is that in general it will be a great opener.
"That could change somewhat, depending on the weather we have leading up to Saturday. That's been the case already: An early spring, particularly in the southern part of the state, turned out to be a not-so-early spring. Then things leveled off until recently, when we've had quite a bit of rain and it's been cool.
"You can see how that's affected fish, but look at what's happened with crappies this spring. Instead of a definite move into the shallows to feed, and then to spawn, they've been moving in and out. I've been crappie fishing a fair bit and this spring you really have to slow down to catch them.
"The thing is, this spring has been so unusual that I think it's setting up to make for some really spectacular catches on the opener. It might even be a year for the record books, in terms of fish caught. It's already been a year for the record books in terms of the weather we've had.
"As a result, fish, at least in the southern half of the state, are ahead of where they would be typically at this time of year, rather than lagging behind."
Tom Neustrom, Grand Rapids, 1-218-259-2628, and Jeff Sundin, Deer River, 1-218-246-2375: "The good news up here is that the shiners have started to run. The bait guys are just starting to trap them, so there shouldn't be any problems finding good bait for the opener. But the fact that the shiners are running will be good for fishermen, too.
"In more typical springs, shiners on the opener would be staging in eight to ten feet of water. In those years, it's sometimes not until later, a week or two after the opener, that they move into the shallows, and the walleyes move with them.
"This also should allow on the opener this year for people to find smaller pockets of walleyes, rather than hang out on in big flotillas. Also, there should be a bigger variety of lakes to fish that will provide good action this opener, rather than on more typical openers when it's the big walleye producers that provide the fish.
"But those big lakes, the big sand lakes, should be really good. Leech, Winnie, Upper Red. An eighth-ounce jig and a minnow should do it."
Billy Dougherty, Rainy Lake Houseboats, 1-800-554-9188: "The walleyes are still spawning here, and I look for it to be a pretty decent opener.
"The water temperature on Friday was 45 degrees in the rivers, and about 50 here at our docks. We're maybe a week a head of time on those temps.
"I've been on the lake quite a bit already, and the northern pike fishing has been unbelievable. The season here is open year-round on northerns, and we've really been having some fun with it. We've been taking them with Glidin' Raps, and they really hit them.
"When the walleye season opens, though, on Saturday, a jig and a minnow will work best. Based on what I'm seeing, the fish up here will be where they typically are on the opener: in the currents, where you can find them, or shallow."
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org