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Lakes open (enough) for Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener

Jeremy Thompson (right) helps Mike Grindahl of Duluth look for three-way swivels at Chalstrom’s, north of Duluth, on Thursday afternoon. (Clint Austin / / 2
Chalstrom’s employee Amy Ziegler of Floodwood prints off a fishing license for Mike Grindahl of Duluth at the store north of Duluth on Thursday afternoon. Grindahl was buying a fishing license and bait for the Minnesota fishing opener this weekend. (Clint Austin / / 2

It’s on.

The long-awaited and much-doubted Minnesota fishing opener will happen on Saturday after all.

A winter’s worth of ice had left many lakes by Thursday. The state’s inland fishing season for most species opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

“I don’t know if it’ll be 100 percent ice-free, but it will be enough that people will be putting boats in on all the lakes and moving around,” said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle near Duluth.

Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman’s Corner reported early Thursday that the ice on Pike Lake was mostly gone, piled up on shore.

And at Deer River, fishing guide Jeff Sundin filed a similar report.

“The ice is gone, for all intents and purposes,” Sundin said Thursday. “(But) it’s hard to spread good news. There were still people doubting it.”

That’s the kind of spring it has been. But forget all of that. Except for some lakes in far northern and Northeastern Minnesota, anglers should be able to find plenty of open water for the opener.

Mike Grindahl of Duluth is ready.

At Chalstrom’s on Thursday afternoon, Grindahl was picking up minnows for another party. He plans to fish the St. Louis River in Duluth on Saturday.

“I think it’s going to be ridiculous,” Grindahl said.

That means good.

“I think a lot of really big fish will be caught, from Boy Scout (Landing) and up,” he said. “The late ice, the cold water, the high water — I think there will be a lot of big females in there.”

The river is likely to be a popular spot on the opener. Again this year, the U.S. Coast Guard has not placed channel-marking buoys along the channel above Spirit Lake, so anglers will have to depend on their own GPS units.

As always, anglers and fishing guides are optimistic about the prospects for a walleye fish fry Saturday night. A later-than-normal spawn, they say, could mean that the fish will be more concentrated than on a typical opener.

“I think it’s going to be gangbusters,” VanValkenburg said. “They haven’t had a chance to disperse. They’ll be grouped up.”

Spottail shiner minnows might be in short supply for opening weekend due to the late ice-out, some bait shop owners said. Fred’s Bait in Deer River should have some spottail shiners from Lake Winnibigoshish, said Lynne Schwartz of the shop — if you get there at the right time.

“We’ll have some spottails. We don’t know how many,” she said. “They’ll go out the door as fast as they come in.”

Opener tips

We asked fishing guides and bait shop owners to share some fishing tips for opening weekend. Here’s what they said:

  • Duluth area — The St. Louis River was in good shape on Wednesday, said longtime river fisherman Rob Maas of Duluth. He was crappie fishing that day and checking river conditions.

“The water level should be perfect as long as we don’t get heavy rains up north of here,” Maas said Thursday. “Clarity should be perfect.”

On lakes, look for walleyes near traditional spawning areas with current, Chalstrom said.

“They’ll still be in the spawning areas. Around the creeks, there will be some stacked-up fish. Usually when that happens, the little males feed good,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be a slaughter, myself,” VanValkenburg said.

Fish the shallows, VanValkenburg said. Areas such as the Lavaque Road bridge over the Beaver River will be popular, he said. Slip-bobbers with leeches or minnows will be popular rigs. All minnows except shiners should be plentiful, he said.

  • Grand Rapids and Deer River — Fish shallow flats adjacent to spawning areas, Sundin said.

“That’s the first place I’m going to look,” said the longtime guide. “From 4 feet out to 7 or 8 feet. If it’s sunny, I’ll have to go deeper, off the first drop.”

If that fails, Sundin will fish lakes like Winnibigoshish, Bowstring or Leech, looking for male walleyes in gravel a bit deeper, out to 11 or 12 feet.

“We still have very cold water,” said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. “Maybe by the weekend, it will be in the upper 40s. The fish likely will be shallow, and they may be concentrated in some areas.”

  • Leech Lake, Walker — “The ice is almost completely off,” said Jack Shriver of Shriver’s Bait Co. in Walker.

Anglers should look for walleyes off shoreline points.

“(The bite) is going to be shallow,” Shriver said, “as shallow as 4 feet out to 9 feet. Just look for those wind-driven points. It’ll be a jig and a minnow, and there will be some leech people, too.”

Finding spottail shiners will be difficult, if not impossible, he said.

  • Red Lake, Waskish — Petrowske, who guides through Outdoors with Jonny P, says walleyes will be shallow.

“Guys are going to have to learn to fish shallow — 5 feet to 2 feet,” Petrowske said.

Many will fish the mouth of the Tamarack River where it enters Red Lake, but Petrowske urges them to spread out in the shallows along shore.

“Not every fish in Red Lake spawns in that river,” he said.

Shiners will be hard to come by, but other minnows will work, he said.

“If it wiggles and has an eyeball, they’ll hit it,” he said.

  • Gunflint Trail Lakes, Grand Marais — Larger lakes along the Gunflint Trail remain ice-covered, resort owners and fishing guides said.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an opener on Sag (Saganaga Lake),” said Mike Berg of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp.

Gunflint Lake remains mostly ice-covered, too, said Shari Baker of Gunflint Pines Resort.

The 2014 Minnesota fishing opener

When: Saturday, starting at 12:01 a.m.

Weather: Across much of Northeastern Minnesota, look for sunshine and highs in the 60s on Saturday with light winds. Sunday’s weather should be similar, but with a chance of rain.

What you’ll need: A Minnesota fishing license, $22 for resident individual angling; $5 for youth 16 and 17; $35 for resident married couple angling; $45 nonresident individual angling.

Fishing closures: Because of the late ice-out, some waters that aren’t usually closed will be closed to walleye fishing to protect concentrations of walleyes. For the current list, go to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website at and go to the “Fishing” page.

Bait issues: Anticipate a tight supply of shiner minnows for opening weekend, but other kinds of minnows, along with leeches and night crawlers, should be available.

Invasive species: Remember to follow rules to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Those regulations are spelled out on pages 3-17 of the Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet.


Read Sam Cook's column.