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As Minnesota fishing opener nears, anglers see visions of walleyes

John Chalstrom was in his leech office Thursday afternoon dealing hundreds of the wriggling black creatures into 50 waiting Styrofoam containers. Minnesota's fishing season opens Saturday, and Chalstrom, co-owner of Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle, p...

Packing leeches
John Chalstrom of Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle reacts with surprise while trying to hold on to slippery leeches Thursday afternoon. Chalstrom was packing 300 Styrofoam containers with a dozen leeches each in preparation for Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

John Chalstrom was in his leech office Thursday afternoon dealing hundreds of the wriggling black creatures into 50 waiting Styrofoam containers.

Minnesota's fishing season opens Saturday, and Chalstrom, co-owner of Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle, plans to have plenty of leeches on hand.

"I'll probably do 300 dozen for (today)," he said.

He hopes to sell out and have to package up another few hundred dozen for the weekend.

Anticipation for the coming season ran high on Thursday, with temperatures in the low 70s and sunshine warming the shallows of the state's 5,500 fishable lakes.

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At Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake, Steve Jenson had to go to the back room to resupply chubs for a waiting customer. Minnow-seeking anglers were lined up at the bubbling tanks.

"Busier than heck," Jenson said, describing the pace at the shop.

Jenson oxygen-packed the chubs for Pat Paitrick of Hermantown, who was headed for Wolf Lake near Brimson with friend Jerry Colby of Poplar. The anglers, along with several others, have spent the opener on Fish Lake north of Duluth for many years, but lately walleyes have been hard to come by. So, the group is headed for new territory.

Minnesota sells about 1.3 million fishing licenses every year, and a good share of those anglers will be out on the opener, their first chance to catch walleyes since midwinter. Fishing is big business in the state, where residents register more than 800,000 boats and angling contributes nearly $1.6 billion -- that's "b" as in "bass" -- to the state's economy.

After a long stretch of cool weather and some rain, it looks like the opener will be mostly sunny and warm.

With record early ice-out on most lakes, the Minnesota House in early April had passed a bill that would have moved the opener ahead one week to last Saturday, but that's as far as the measure got. Chalstrom is glad it went no further.

"Thank God we didn't get that earlier opener," he said. "The weather wasn't that good."

Outside the shop, anglers Jim Holmes and Joe Hunger of Superior, along with Dan LaTour of Duluth, looked over Holmes' 16-foot aluminum boat to make sure they were ready.

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Budweiser? Check.

Busch? Check.

Minnows? Check

Duluth packs, ax, splitting maul, pots, pans, coffee pot? Check.

The anglers, mostly 1986 graduates of Denfeld High School, are headed to Boulder Lake, where some of this six-man crew has been opening fishing season for 25 years.

"We'll go up and get some wood cut, so we're good to go if it does rain," LaTour said.

Once in camp, they rarely have to go out in the boat to fish, Holmes said.

"We get most of our action right from the rock in camp," he said. "Want to know how many cell phones have fallen in the lake there?"

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There's talk among the anglers of fishing at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, as soon as the season opens.

"I might have to take a nap at 8 and set an alarm," LaTour said.

That's what the opener does to otherwise reasonable people. We are hungry for walleyes, and that first hour might be the only time they're biting. All of us know walleyes are the finest eating fish in Minnesota's waters. Their mild flavor and delicate texture makes them the perfect host for a seasoned batter crisped in a pan of hot oil.

Outside Chalstrom's, Steve Krmpotich of Duluth had bought some chubs and was headed for his cabin on Pequaywan Lake. He, too, was talking about fishing in the midnight hour.

"I think I'll fish at 12:01, off the dock," Krmpotich said.

Is that a tradition for him?

"No, but if the weather's nice..."

That's exactly what thoughts of the Minnesota opener will do to a person.

Related Topics: FISHING
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