Early ice-out, pent-up desire to get on open water and perhaps walleye fever brought Minnesota anglers out in force for the fishing opener.
Through Monday, the state sold 409,436 fishing licenses, up nearly 72,000 — or 21 percent — from last year. That’s the fifth-highest license sales for the Monday after the opener in the past 10 years.
The reason: “It’s the nice spring weather, after two delayed springs, I’m guessing,” said Al Stevens, Department of Natural Resources fisheries program consultant.
Fishing license sales, whether they start fast or slow, tend to even out by the end of the year. Last year, the state sold 1.14 million licenses, about 10,000 more than 2013 but nearly 30,000 fewer than 2012.
Best opener ever?
Fishing guide Tim “Buck” Lescarbeau’s high-profile task Saturday was to get Gov. Mark Dayton and his fishing companions walleyes on the opener. He produced.
Dayton’s nine walleyes was the best outing for a governor in at least 20 years and likely one of the best showings in the 68 years of the Governor’s Fishing Opener event. Others in his boat did even better. Majority Leader Tom Bakk landed 14 walleyes and Speaker Kurt Daudt caught a dozen.
“It was awesome — like a dream come true,’’ said Lescarbeau, 52, of Chisholm, who has been guiding on Vermilion for 18 years. The fish were 12 to 17 inches long, and all were released.
The best Dayton had done in previous events was one fish, Lescarbeau was told. “The bar was set kind of low,’’ he quipped.
Carol Altepeter, who for 20 years has helped coordinate Governor’s Fishing Opener events, said there are no records to indicate how Dayton’s exploits compare. But since she’s been involved, “I don’t recall anyone doing better.’’
Gov. Jesse Ventura had a hot hand in 2000 on Crane Lake, catching four walleyes and four northerns, and breaking a walleye drought for governors that went back nine years.
Where he found them
“We fished deep, in 42 to 45 feet of water,’’ Lescarbeau said. “The governor used a 24-inch snell and a No. 4 red hook with a rainbow chub and ⅜-ounce weight.’’ Bakk and Daudt used minnows and jigs. Lescarbeau targeted juvenile walleyes that hadn’t gone into shallow water to spawn.
“Vermilion is a really good opening day lake,’’ Lescarbeau said. “You have those deep fish to fall back on if the shallows haven’t warmed up.’’