Border closed, Ontario walleye opener will be off-limits to Yanks

Many groups have canceled their usual trips, unwilling to bring people together due to COVID-19 concerns.

All U.S.-Canada border crossings, like this one in International Falls, will remain closed to general traffic until at least May 20. That means U.S. citizens won't be able to fish on the May 16 Ontario walleye opener. File / News Tribune

Barring some sort of last-minute international negotiations, it appears the U.S.-Canada border will remain closed to general traffic until at least May 20, scrubbing the May 16 Ontario walleye fishing opener for all U.S. anglers.

That’s bad news not just for thousands of anglers who normally head north for the opener, but also for many Ontario resort owners, many of whom are U.S. residents. In fact, several Northlanders own fishing camps north of the border in Ontario.

The border has been closed to personal travel since March 21, although it has remained open to commercial traffic like trucks and trains. On April 20, the governments of both nations agreed to restrict unnecessary travel to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus for at least another 30 days. That would seem to indicate that the border could reopen on May 20 or 21, depending on how the days are counted. But it’s also possible the closure could be extended.

It’s left anglers and resort owners in a state of uncertainty.

A May 20 opening would allow travel in time for the long Memorial Day weekend. But any other date will eat into the heart of the walleye fishing season, the bread-and-butter period for many fishing camps. On average, more than 90% of customers at northwestern Ontario fishing camps are U.S. citizens.


Many anglers not only have lost their early trip north of the border, but it’s unclear how many will make trips even as summer goes on. Many groups have canceled their usual trips, unwilling to bring people together for long drives and cabin stays under COVID-19 concerns.

Rural Duluth-area resident Robin Sodelrind owns Barker Bay Resort on Lower Manitou Lake, about 90 miles north of International Falls, with her husband, Wayne. She said it appears May 20 is still the border opening date, for now. But even then anglers should expect to find a changed scenario crossing the border.

“There may be screenings at the border once open as well,’’ she said. “It's sure been an uncertain time. We have had to cancel our May guests and are unsure about June.”

Gary Moeller, of Baudette, Minnesota, a partner in Ballard’s Resort on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods and Black Island Camp on the Ontario side of the big lake, said cross-border tourism probably isn’t tops on the list of government officials in either nation dealing with COVID-19 issues.

“I kind of get the feeling, understandably, that tourism is very much on the back burner right now,” Moeller told the Grand Forks Herald. “End result? More than likely (Ballard’s Black Island) will not be in operation for the month of May, knowing that it takes us at least two weeks to prep before the camp is generally ready to go.”

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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