UPPER RED LAKE, MINN. – This lake has a fish-producing reputation to uphold on opening day, and it didn't disappoint Saturday, as thousands of anglers from Minnesota and beyond reaped its bountiful walleyes on a summer-like day that featured patchy blue skies and a high temperature that topped 75 degrees.

As has been the case in recent years, shortly after sunrise, anglers meeting at West Wind Resort formed a conga line of truck-trailer-and-boat rigs that snaked from Minnesota Hwy. 72 to the resort's launch site.

There, anglers slid their watercraft into the chilled lake to resume the state's most satisfying pastime — open-water fishing — which had been suspended since October by a too-long winter.

Earlier concerns that Upper Red might not be ice-free for the opener proved unwarranted. Strong winds, rain and temperatures that increased quickly in the past 10 days contributed to the lake's official 2023 open-water date of May 5, five days after its April 30 median.

What exactly Upper Red's walleyes had been doing in the interim was part of a puzzle we hoped to solve. Given the late ice-out, they probably spawned later than normal, we figured, and so perhaps were still in or near the Tamarac River on the lake's eastern shore.

Mark Bieganek, who runs the bait shop at West Wind, dispelled that notion quickly.

"They're not in the river," Bieganek said when I checked with him early Saturday morning. "A couple conservation officers were in here at 5:30 a.m. and they said there wasn't much there."

Our bunch consisted of 10 anglers in three boats, and as we departed the buoyed passageway leading onto the lake from West Wind's harbor, we split up.

Steve Vilks, of Naples, Fla., piloted the boat I fished in, along with my wife, Jan, and Joe Hermes of Minneapolis. In another boat were John and Jodi Weyrauch of Stillwater, and in another still were Mark Strelnieks of Victoria; David Tomsche of Melrose, Minn.; Tom Whitten of Glenwood City, Wis.; and Terry Arnesen of Stillwater.

"Let's try it here," Steve said as he cut the boat's outboard in favor of its bow-mounted trolling motor. We were in 8 feet of water, which, based upon past openers when we fished Upper Red, was a good starting depth — from which we would move shallower.

On Upper Red this summer, the walleye limit is a generous five, only one of which can be longer than 17 inches. The Department of Natural Resources expanded the lake's limit from four in 2022, when anglers could keep one walleye longer than 20 inches.

The change was brought about by the lake's abundant 2019 walleye year class.

"These [2019] fish are around 15 inches and are now becoming mature," Bemidji area fisheries supervisor Edie Evarts said when announcing the change. "We hope anglers will enjoy this extra opportunity, which will also meet our goal of managing spawning walleye stock at a level that produces future strong year classes."

The anglers in our other two boats elected to drag spottail shiners behind sliding sinkers, while Steve, Jan, Joe and I impaled the same baits on jigs.

Trappers on Upper Red had worked nonstop the previous two nights to corral enough shiners for the thousands of anglers who descended on the lake for the opener, and our bet was that however we presented the little minnows, walleyes would find them irresistible.

But nothing happened.

Not for about 45 minutes.

Then, in sequence, we each caught our one walleye allowed over 17 inches, with the largest about 20 inches.

But smaller walleyes — the ones under 17 inches we hoped would provide the bulk of our opening evening fish fry?

AWOL, each and every one.

What's more, no one around us — and there were hundreds of boats in our vicinity — was catching much, either.

Finally, Joe said, "Let's move," and we all agreed.

Soon thereafter began the walleye bonanza we had become accustomed to on Upper Red, given our experiences on previous openers. While John, Jodi, Terry, Mark, David and Tom filled their live wells "rigging,'' Jan, Joe, Steve and I drifted and jigged in what was perhaps a 12-mph easterly breeze.

Both methods proved effective, mostly in abut 7 feet of water, and in less than four hours, the 10 of us had our cumulative limit of 50 walleyes.

"In our boat, I'm sure we released as many walleyes, or more, than we caught," Steve said as we prepared to head back to West Wind.

In that decision we weren't alone.

So many other walleye-laden anglers were attempting to get off the lake about noon Saturday that another conga line formed, this one of boats just outside the resort's jetty, as anglers waited their turn to enter the harbor and reload their watercraft on trailers.

On shore, one more line formed — this one to enter the resort's fish-cleaning house.

But no one complained.