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Minnesota fishing opener: Miserable, but fun

Some guys have all the luck. Rocky Vine of Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood had been jigging for just five minutes Saturday morning on the Minnesota fishing opener when an 18-inch walleye took his minnow. His fishing partner, Wayne Orrey of Gary...

Paul Sitko
Paul Sitko of Duluth holds a stringer of walleyes that he and his fishing partners caught early Saturday morning, during Minnesota's fishing opener, on the St. Louis River. They were hoping to add a few more. (Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com)

Some guys have all the luck.

Rocky Vine of Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood had been jigging for just five minutes Saturday morning on the Minnesota fishing opener when an 18-inch walleye took his minnow.

His fishing partner, Wayne Orrey of Gary, had been fishing the same spot on the St. Louis River since 2:30 a.m. Saturday and had caught just a couple of channel catfish.

They were among thousands of anglers across Northeastern Minnesota who endured cool, rainy weather early in the day to take part in the opening day ritual. As the northern Minnesota saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

Vine and Orrey were fishing from a pontoon boat that was anchored to shore on the St. Louis River just below the Minnesota Highway 23 bridge. On shore, Roger Vine of Fond du Lac kept an energetic fire going with the help of his grandkids, 12-year-old Alexandra Vine and 10-year-old Cooper Vine.

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Despite the weather, anglers turned out in throngs to celebrate the opener, a grand tradition among Minnesota's 1.2 million anglers. They looked a little like drenched rats when they came off the water, and their faces were the color of ripe apples. Even Gov. Mark Dayton sampled the foul weather, taking part in the annual Governor's Fishing Opener at Grand Rapids.

The weather was a factor, especially early in the day. A northeasterly wind whipped up the St. Louis River, driving rain and drizzle ahead of it.

"It was miserable, but it was fun," said Dennis Bissell of Wrenshall, coming to shore at the Fond du Lac Campground about 8:30 a.m.

His grown son, Zach Bissell of Wrenshall, was shivering.

"Living the dream," he said.

Yes, it seemed a bit contradictory, but that's the logic of a Minnesota opener. You ignore the forecast. You go. You have fun, or pretend you did.

Anglers were fairly spread out on the St. Louis River early Saturday. Paul Sitko was anchored just below the Highway 23 bridge about 8 a.m., fishing with his dad, Bob Sitko of Stillwater, Minn., and his brother Doug Sitko of Mahtomedi, Minn. It was their 12th opener together on the river.

"When we got here at 5:45, there were 20 boats here," Paul Sitko said. "They all left."

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Walleye fishing was "slow" on the river, said veteran river angler Todd Maas of Duluth. He and partner Al Nettifee of Kerrick had started fishing at 4 a.m. They had caught four walleyes, and one of them was a 28-incher that Maas took on a 'crawler harness and bottom-bouncer near Water Street. Their other fish came on jigs and minnows while they were anchored, Maas said.

They also caught a 12-pound channel catfish.

"We thought it was a sturgeon," Maas said.

Maas and Nettiffee were coming off the water at 9 a.m. at Boy Scout Landing in Gary.


Pike and crappies

The Lavaque Road bridge over Fish Lake north of Duluth drew its customary opening-day faithful. Fishing from shore, anglers found cooperative northern pike and crappies early Saturday, although walleyes were scarce.

Lucas Wiersma; his dad, Gene Wiersma; and friend Bob Moen, all of Cloquet, were leaving the bridge about 10 a.m. Lucas Wiersma was toting a 3-pound northern pike, and his dad hauled a bucket of respectable crappies. They had caught them all on Beaver Flick spinners, made at the Beaver House Bait Shop in Grand Marais.

Gene was admiring the crappies.

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"I think these are going to make a stink in the frying pan this evening," he said. "And that's a stink I can live with."

Down the shore near the bridge, C.J. Slocum, 12, and his brother Daniel Slocum, 10, were rigging up. Their dad, Jim Slocum of Fredenberg Township, already was casting.

"Hopefully, we'll get a good northern," C.J. said.

The boys fish near the bridge as often as they can during the summer.

"We try to get out as much as possible. We're mom's little fishermen," Daniel said.

Across the road, from the bridge itself, Jeanna Singer of Duluth was casting a minnow into the teeth of the wind. She had already caught and kept a northern at least 14 inches long. It had taken a crappie minnow.

On the west bank, Dan Lund of Proctor was just rigging up, kneeling in the wet grass. Like lots of anglers on this damp, cool opener, he was counting on catching fish.

"I've got everything I need to cook 'em up," Lund said, gesturing toward his vehicle. "I got the cast iron. I got the oil and the breading. I got the beer to pour in the batter."

One more opening-day optimist.

Why not? It's fishing season again.

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