State fishing waters will be high and cool for the most part next weekend when Minnesota celebrates its opening weekend of the walleye and northern pike season.
Unlike last year when late ice-outs kept anglers guessing about conditions, resort owners, bait dealers, outfitters and natural resource officials foresee an easygoing start when the countdown hits zero at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
“All we need between now and then is a little sunshine and warming,’’ said Shawn Peck, owner of Winnie Trading Post, a popular bait shop north of Deer River.
Peck said cold water and flooding around some bait ponds up north are hampering the trapping of leeches and some species of minnows. Leeches, for instance, will stay burrowed in mud until the water temperatures of winter subside.
“Right now it looks like shiners could be in short supply and leeches might not be plentiful,’’ Peck said. “But all of that can change in a single day.’’
He said there’s a lot of enthusiasm building for this year’s opener in the north-central region that includes Cass, Winnibigoshish, Bowstring, Sand, Cut Foot Sioux, Leech and Upper Red lakes.
“Last year was the best year we’ve had on Winnie in years,’’ he said. “I think we’re gonna have another great year.’’
Long-range forecasts suggest mild weather for Saturday around the state: Partly cloudy skies and highs in the 50s. The Department of Natural Resources still is tabulating the most recent fishing licenses sales, but a week ago purchases were still 5 % below what they were a year ago at the same time.
While 2018 fishing license sales hit an eight-year low in Minnesota last year, the activity continues to be a multibillion dollar pastime in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Counting kids who fish legally without licenses, it attracts 1.5 million people a year.
Ginny Nelson of Spirit of the Wilderness outfitters in Ely, said high water is a good way to start the fishing season in canoe country. Last year, ice limited options to fish. But this year, it’s wide open, she said.
Doug Kingsley, DNR’s area fisheries supervisor in Park Rapids, said cold water has slowed walleye fry production in the regional hatchery. Normally, lakes in the area are stocked with the newly hatched fish before the opener. For anglers, the conditions suggest that walleyes will be found close to spawning areas, Kingsley said.
Explore Minnesota regards the fishing opener as the kickoff to summer tourism. This year’s venue for the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener is Albert Lea, a city that continues to battle water pollution from farm runoff.
Fountain Lake in downtown Albert Lea is being dredged this year to clear sediment buildup. The small, shallow, aerated lake is managed by the DNR for bluegill, crappie, walleye, channel catfish, northern pike and bass fishing. Gov. Tim Walz likely will fish there during the southernmost governor’s fishing opener in the event’s 72-year history.
“It’s Minnesota, so wherever you come from you fish,’’ said Jack Lauer, DNR southern regional fisheries manager.