Anticipation running high for Minnesota fishing opener
Paul Klassen had his minnows. He was leaving Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle north of Duluth, and he was headed for his home on Pequaywan Lake. Like most of the anglers who stopped by the popular bait shop on Thursday, Klassen was ready for Saturday'...
Paul Klassen had his minnows. He was leaving Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle north of Duluth, and he was headed for his home on Pequaywan Lake.
Like most of the anglers who stopped by the popular bait shop on Thursday, Klassen was ready for Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener. He knows how he'll be fishing on his home lake.
"Probably a slip-sinker with a floating jig, right off the dock," Klassen said. "Evening, they come in."
Chalstrom's was a bustling place on Thursday afternoon. Anglers came. Anglers went. They bought fishing licenses and acquired bait and had new line wound on their reels. The minnow tanks bubbled. In a nearby refrigerator, leeches performed slow-motion wriggles and night crawlers conserved energy for the opener.
Passing cars and trucks outside the shop honked their greetings as they sped by. In them, one presumed, were more of the estimated 500,000 anglers who will fish opening weekend.
Sue Chalstrom, longtime proprietor of the bait shop, had come out of retirement to help out for the weekend. The first thing she did was go pick up some pink and purple petunias to dress up the storefront.
Outside, owner John Chalstrom, Sue's son, helped haul pails full of minnows from a wholesale bait dealer's truck into his shop. In the afternoon's warmth, Chalstrom wore a water-splashed T-shirt. The week's warm weather had put anglers in good spirits, he said.
"It's hard to get the smiles off people," Chalstrom said. "Everyone's happy."
Walleye outlook for popular northern Minnesota lakes
Jerry Wiita of Duluth came bopping into the shop carrying an empty pickle pail.
"I would like the best minnows for the biggest walleyes," he announced.
Sue Chalstrom started scooping.
Wiita was headed for his cabin on the Whiteface Reservoir farther up St. Louis County Highway 4.
"Gonna be nice weather, huh?" Wiita said.
Connie Ellerman of Duluth needed two dozen night crawlers. She'll be fishing from a friend's cabin on Lake Vermilion. More specifically, she'll be fishing from a shoreline boulder in front of the cabin. That's where she caught a big northern pike in 2013. She pulled out her smartphone and went speed-scrolling for the picture.
"I was so proud of this fish," she said. "It was my last worm."
"Here it is," Ellerman said.
She tapped the photo to enlarge it, and there she was, holding the fish. Just like she said, it was a nice pike.
After a week of warm weather and more forecast for Saturday and Sunday, anglers are even more optimistic about the opener than usual. Most walleyes spawned nearly a month ago and should be putting on the feedbag, many anglers say.
Other bait shop owners and fishing guides are anticipating a good opener, too.
"I've talked to guys out fishing crappies and inadvertently catching walleyes," said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake. "They say the walleyes are done spawning. Everything is ahead of the game. The fish will be past the post-spawn (period) and spread out."
The situation is much the same in the Grand Rapids area, said fishing guide Tom Neustrom.
"Spawning is done," he said. "It's been done for a week to 10 days on all the lakes, not just some lakes. As long as we get some consistent weather, it could be one of the best openers in a long time."
The bait shops in the Grand Rapids area should have shiner minnows, always an early-season favorite, Neustrom said. Still, he urged anglers to call ahead to get the latest status on bait.
"A shiner and jig will probably be best for the opener," Neustrom said, "but don't be afraid to bring leeches - not jumbos, just mediums."
If walleyes don't cooperate, consider crappies, Neustrom said.
"The crappies have moved into the shallows, not to spawn but to feed," Neustrom said. "Crappies would be a good alternative if the walleyes aren't biting."
On the St. Louis River in Duluth, experienced anglers say the fish may be more spread out than concentrated. Many of the river's walleyes have spawned, said Superior guide Chris Edquist, and may have moved downriver some distance. He suspects anglers won't find them as concentrated as they are in some years when spawning occurs later.
Fisheries officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids take millions of walleye eggs each spring on the river between Cut Foot Sioux and Little Cut Foot Sioux lakes north of Deer River. This year's egg-taking operation went well, starting April 13 and finishing April 19, said Dave Weitzel, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids.
"We had a tremendous run," Weitzel said. "We took 1,600 quarts of eggs, and we'll have around 20 million fry to stock in Northeastern Minnesota. About 16½ to 17 million will go back to Cut Foot."
Millions of walleyes.
What a pleasant thought on the eve of the opener.
2017 Minnesota fishing opener
- The official opener: Anglers can wet lines starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday
- What's open: Fishing opens on inland waters for walleyes, northern pike, lake trout, stream trout in lakes, and largemouth bass and smallmouth bass (bass open only north and east of U.S. Highway 53, plus Pelican and Ash lakes).
- The weather: Can this be true? The forecast across Northeastern Minnesota on Saturday and Sunday is for sunshine, with morning lows around 40 and highs from the mid-50s to mid-60s. Sunday will be a bit cooler near Duluth, with east winds.
- Water levels: Lake levels, even on Duluth-area reservoir lakes, are good.
- Boat landings: With an early ice-out, Department of Natural Resources crews have boat landings in good shape. Note that the Minnesota Power boat access and recreation area near the Island Lake Dam will be closed from June 1 to Dec. 31 both this year and in 2018 while older gates are replaced in the dam. That access will be open until June 1 this spring.
- Let's see your fish: Send your big-fish photos and listings for our weekly "Nice Fish" compilation to firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Set a record: If you're looking for a state-record walleye, think big. The state's current walleye record is 17 pounds, 8 ounces, caught by LeRoy Chiovitte of Cloquet in 1979 on the Seagull River.