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Jarrid Houston column: Wisconsin fishing opener is upon us

Most lakes should be ice-free, but many anglers may opt for a hot bite on Lake Superior.

Jarrid Houston
Jarrid Houston

Welcome to a special opening-day edition of the weekly fishing column. The countdown for the first of the two most hallowed of holidays is well on its way.

The great Wisconsin fishing opener is green-lighted for Saturday, May 3, at midnight. This weekend always brings joy to my heart, especially after this unique winter. I confidently speak for almost everyone when I say: Bring on the warm and mild fishing days. For a lot of us, the opener is a timeless tradition. For me, it’s the chance to relive memories with family and friends as we log long hours on the water together.

This year, the open water feels very overdue. The rigs are gassed up, tackle is organized and we are ready to rock. Our plan is the same as usual. We will head south to the Hayward area and stake out some of our favorite early-season walleye spots. In a typical spring, we have already had the chance to do some scouting and looking around, but not this year. With the later than usual ice-out, we will have to dive into our past journal entries to see what has worked during previous late springs.

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Where are you going for the Wisconsin general fishing opener? Same old spot where you got skunked last year?

No matter what happens, it’s fishing, and I couldn't be more excited to partake. So far, the weekend weather report looks good, although we all know that can change quickly. Maybe Mother Nature got the bad stuff out of her system over the past two weeks? We can only hope.

Although the general fishing opener for Wisconsin inland lakes is Saturday, many anglers will find their way onto Lake Superior as some good bites are picking up. This past week, weather again was a challenge — lots of wind — but the few days anglers did have a go at it was worth it. Both the North Shore and over toward the Bayfield area were good.


Trolling shorelines in search of trout and salmon has been the usual, but as the smelt are just about to cut loose, trolling near river mouth areas has gained popularity. Brightly colored stickbaits resembling smelt have been best. No need for heavy snaps or riggers, as most fish continue to be caught with shallow- to mid-range dive bills. Honestly, for the usual walleye crank bait selection, you can have a chance to find the magic color, size and profile. This time of year, finding the right bait is the challenge. If you do get the hot bait rolling, hopefully you have multiples of it in the tackle box.

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Stream anglers are just starting to dig the boots back into a few areas and finding mix success. The river flows are still pumping pretty hard, but each day they will slow down. For the schmelters (yes, that's how many of us pronounce "smelt"), we have been waiting patiently and things are just about to start rolling hard. Each night, a few more are showing up. A couple mild warmer days will really get them moving.

The St. Louis River Estuary is ice-free, but we have seen no boats, except for a few that have launched from harbor areas to access Lake Superior. We are still waiting on many areas to get docks in, but we know Loons Foot in Superior is ready. The docks will most certainly be in by this time next week.

Which reminds me, if you see the hardworking dock crews getting things ready for our open-water season, give them a handshake and a thank-you. Those things go a long way. The river opens May 13 for general game fish, and like every year, it will be interesting.

Even though last weekend's rain was a damper for outside plans, it did help rot a lot of ice on inland lakes. The strong winds and the sun that has followed to start this week also has helped. We are seeing more and more lakes open up each day. It can be very impressive how fast ice can disappear. On Sunday, we watched Lake Minnesuing for 90 minutes, it was crazy how much ice vanished in that time. Even the lakes in northern Minnesota are finally on their way.

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With the late-winter season, we certainly are cutting it close. Most, but not all lakes should be available for open-water fishing to start the season. If you are traveling from the south to your opener spot in the north, you may want to call the local bait shops, guides, or resorts to confirm open water access. Also, don't be surprised to run into a few areas that have open water, but no boat docks.

In the Hayward area, we will fish with jigs and minnows, and some bobber rigs, near shallow rock shorelines. The timing of this opener for walleyes and pike, I forecast, is going to be good. It might even be great.

Lastly, be safe out there — it's the opener. It can be very busy, so practice patience. And remember, others are out to enjoy the great outdoors as well. Great luck everyone and I look forward to all the fish chatter from all of you.

Jarrid Houston of South Range is a fishing guide ( houstonsguideservice.com ) on Minnesota and Wisconsin inland waters, the St. Louis River and, in winter, on Lake Superior.
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