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Minnesota fishing opener: Everything you need to know, and then some

Ice on northern lakes, bait shortage predicted, new limits on some waters and places you aren’t allowed to fish.

File: walleye
Walleyes will become legal game starting at 12:01 a.m. May 13 across most Minnesota waters.
Clint Austin / 2014 file / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Minnesota’s general inland fishing season starts at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 13, for walleye, northern pike and bass, although bass fishing south and west of U.S. Highway 53 is catch-and-release only until May 27.

Panfish fishing, including perch, sunfish and crappies, is allowed all year. Musky season starts June 3. Fishing on Lake Superior for salmon and some trout runs all year. North Shore stream fishing for rainbow trout is allowed all year. Brook trout fishing opened April 16.

Send your fish pics to News Tribune’s Trophy Room

The News Tribune Trophy Room wants to run photos of you, your family and your friends with their catch of the day, not just on opening day, but all year long. Email them to outdoors@duluthnews.com .

Remember to handle the fish quickly; keep your hands away from the gills and eyes; and try to have the sun shining on the angler's face, not at their back. Get close and fill the photo with the fish.


Lake ice-out?

As of Wednesday, most lakes in northern Minnesota still had some ice on them, but many should lose their ice over the next week. Ice-out had progressed as far north as some Brainerd-area lakes and photographs showed ice pulling away from shore on Winnibigoshish and even Upper Red Lake at midweek.

The exception appears to be lakes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, which remain stubbornly locked in ice, with snow on the ground in the woods still. It's very likely several lakes in Cook, Lake and northern St. Louis counties won't be ice-free by May 13.

The most current information will come from local bait shops, lodges or residents on a lake. A statewide, interactive map showing lake ice-out status is available at dnr. state.mn.us/ice_out/index.html . Note the map may not show up-to-the-minute data.

2018 fishing opener
Anglers on the St. Louis River Estuary for the 2018 Minnesota fishing opener.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Minnow shortage all summer?

It seems every spring there is talk of a live bait shortage as the fishing opener approaches, and this year, with such a tough winter and late ice-out, is no exception.

Heavy snow on top of the ice on minnow rearing ponds in west-central Minnesota blocked sunlight and caused a decrease in oxygen, and many ponds suffered winterkill, said Marshall Koep, owner of Urbank Bait in Clitherall, Minnesota, one of the state's oldest and largest wholesale bait dealers.

That will mean fewer popular minnows like chubs and fatheads.

“We got a late start because of the ice. We just started getting into some open water this week and we’re seeing a lot of winterkill. Everybody is. There’s going to be a minnow shortage all summer until fall, anyhow,” Koep said. “This is back-to-back years now with far fewer minnows than we should have.”


golden shiner in a bag
Shiner minnows, like this golden shiner, will be a popular choice for opening-day walleye anglers if bait dealers can get them to bait shops in time.
Contributed / Minnesota Sea Grant

Koep said some ponds are producing fewer than one-fourth the number of minnows expected and that he’s not sure yet if he will get minnows to all of his usual bait shop customers before the May 13 walleye opener. Koep’s also dealing with higher fuel prices for trucks, higher rent for ponds and higher wages for employees.

Lake shiners also may be in short supply because even where ice has gone out, the water is too cold for shiners to spawn near shore on the big lakes where bait dealers trap them.

Koep’s advice: Buy your bait a little early and, like everything else these days, expect to pay a little more.

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Docks and water levels

Even if your lake does lose its ice by May 13, the late spring means it's unlikely crews will have had time to install docks on all lakes. Bring waders or rubber boots to help launch the boat. Meanwhile, a winter of heavier snow and recent spring rains have helped raise water levels, in some cases to very high or even near-flood levels.

Get your fishing license online, by phone or in person

Check out various license options — individual, senior, husband-wife, hunting/fishing combination — and buy your license at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html , by calling 888-665-4236 or at many sporting goods stores statewide. The basic resident adult fishing license for a year is $25 and $51 for nonresidents.

stringer of walleyes
Tyler Erickson, of Duluth, holds up a stringer of fish he and his family caught fishing from shore on the 2020 Minnesota fishing opener on the St. Louis River in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Mothers fish free, and can win prizes

As usual, all mothers in Minnesota can fish for free over Mother’s Day weekend, May 13-14. New this year, moms can participate in the Mother’s Day weekend fishing challenge sponsored by the DNR. Moms must first join the Minnesota Moms Fishing Challenge Facebook group and then submit one photo of each fish they catch.


All participants who submit a fish will be entered in a random drawing for prizes provided by the Student Anglers Organization, including Scheels gift cards.

Don’t forget your boat license

To avoid a delay in receiving your three-year boat sticker, boaters are encouraged to renew registrations online or at a local deputy registrar's office rather than by mail. If they renew online, they can print out the confirmation page to use as their temporary permit. Boaters also may write down their temporary authorization number from the confirmation page. The registration card and expiration decals will then be mailed to the boat owner.

Renew at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html .

Of 162 fish species, walleye (of course) is the most popular

Some 162 species of fish can be found in Minnesota waters. The DNR says walleye are the most sought-after fish in Minnesota by anglers, followed by northern pike and muskie, then panfish, bass, crappie and trout.

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Most walleyes aren’t stocked

Protecting and restoring natural fish habitat supports the millions of naturally reproduced fish caught by anglers each year. For example, the DNR says roughly 85% of the walleye caught and kept by anglers are the product of natural reproduction, from lakes and rivers where walleye grow naturally.

walleye in net
A perfect eating-sized walleye.
John Myers / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune

Lots of lakes

Minnesota has 11,842 lakes that are 10 or more acres in size, 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes. There are more than 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, including 3,800 miles of trout streams.


Find a fishing lake on the mobile app, online

Get lake-specific information — regulations, fish species, stocking reports, boat landing locations and lake maps — at maps1.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefinder/mobile . Search by lake name, by region on a map or find lakes near where you are.

Munger Landing closed

A reminder that the popular Munger Landing boat ramp and fishing pier in western Duluth will remain closed through the entire open water season this year as polluted sediment cleanup continues off shore. That’s going to make other landings on the river even more crowded than usual.

1 million+ anglers

Minnesota sold just over 1 million fishing licenses last year. That number has been fairly consistent between 1 million and 1.2 million over the past 20 years. The state is believed to have about 1.4 million anglers when older seniors and children who don't need licenses are factored in. About 500,000 people are believed to fish on opening day, although that number has never been vetted.

The end result of a successful day's fishing: walleye fillets sizzling in a frying pan.
John Myers / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

Northland seasonal fishing closures

As it is every year by permanent state law, the St. Louis River will be closed to walleye fishing from the Highway 23 bridge upstream to the boundary cable near the dam, until May 18. Other seasonal fishing closures this year include:

  • Cross River in Cook County, inlet to Gunflint Lake, from the Gunflint Trail to Gunflint Lake, closed through May 26.
  • Junco Creek in Cook County, from the first log dam above County Road 57 downstream to Devil Track Lake, including Devil Track Lake within 300 yards of the mouth of the Junco River, closed through May 26.
  • Little Gunflint-Little North channel in Cook County, the channel between Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes, including Little Gunflint Lake within 300 yards of the channel mouth, and Little North Lake within 100 yards of the channel head, closed through May 31.
  • Maligne River (also known as Northern Light Rapids) on the Ontario side of Saganaga Lake, closed through May 31.
  • Saganaga Falls in Cook County, on the Minnesota-Ontario border where the Granite River enters Saganaga Lake, closed through May 31.
  • Sea Gull River in Cook County, from Sea Gull Lake through Gull Lake to Saganaga Lake approximately one-third-mile north of the northernmost narrows, closed through May 26.
  • Granite River in Cook County, at Saganaga Lake, from Saganaga Falls downstream to Saganaga Lake, including Saganaga Lake within 300 yards of the mouth of the Granite River, closed through May 31.
  • Taft River in Cook County, closed until May 26.
  • Moody's Creek in Itasca County, from County Road 432 upstream a half-mile, through June 30.
  • Gauthier, Kadunce and Devils Track rivers in Cook County, closed until May 31.
  • Pike River in St. Louis County, from the mouth to the dam, closed to fishing until May 31.
  • Tait River, Cook County, from the Forest Road 339 crossing, downstream to White Pine Lake, including White Pine Lake within 200 yards of the mouth of Tait River, closed until May 26.

Some new limit changes

There are no region-wide changes in limits for walleye, bass or pike in the Northland (the statewide walleye limit remains six fish daily on lakes where no additional restrictions are in place.) But there are changes to limits on certain lakes. In the Northland, new regulations are in effect for:

  • Big Sandy Lake and connected waters, Aitkin County, including Aitkin Lake — sunfish, daily limit of five; walleye, less than 14 inches or greater than 18 inches must be released, with one allowed over 26 inches.
  • Caribou Lake, Itasca County: — lake trout, minimum size 20 inches, daily limit of one.
  • Round Lake, Itasca County — walleye, all fish between 20 and 24 inches must be released; one walleye over 24 inches allowed.
  • Cloquet and Otter rivers at Island Lake Reservoir, St. Louis County — walleye, same as Island Lake, all walleye 15-20 inches must be released; one walleye over 20 inches allowed.

The 2023 Minnesota fishing regulations booklet is available at mndnr.gov/fishing and anywhere Minnesota fishing licenses are sold.

netting fish
Joe Ranva nets a fish for his friend, Kailey Engstrom. The Duluth anglers were spending opening morning of the 2022 Minnesota fishing season on the Beaver River just below the Wild Rice Lake Reservoir dam.
John Myers / File / Duluth News Tribune


Know the regulations

  • To fish in Minnesota, all anglers 16 years or older are required to buy a Minnesota fishing license.
  •  A trout stamp is required to fish (for any species) in designated trout water or to harvest trout from any water.
  • Minnesota fishing regulations, including those new for 2023, and more information can be found in the Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet available wherever licenses are sold at mndnr.gov/fishing .
  • The DNR has translated the state’s 2023 fishing regulations into Hmong, Karen, Somali and Spanish: the four most commonly spoken languages, apart from English, in Minnesota.
  • New limits for gar are in effect this year. Anglers, spearers and bowfishers have a new possession limit in 2023 of up to 10 gar — the toothy, prehistoric fish native to Minnesota waters. The gar regulation change is part of a larger effort to sustainably manage gar and other native fish including buffalo, sucker, freshwater drum, bowfin, goldeye and bullhead, because these fish are critical contributors to aquatic ecosystems.
Members Only
Where are you going for the Wisconsin general fishing opener? Same old spot where you got skunked last year?

Did you know?

  • Minnesota ranks fourth among the 50 states for the economic impact of sport fishing. Minnesota anglers had a $4.2 billion annual economic impact in the state, ranking behind Florida at $13.9 billion, Texas at $7.7 billion and California at $6.2 billion.
  • Nationwide,  52.4 million anglers across the U.S. contribute $148 billion in economic output and support 945,500 jobs while also contributing $1.8 billion toward conservation through taxes and donations.
  • Alaska is the fishingest state with 64% of the population participating  as anglers, followed by Wyoming at 58%, South Dakota at 48%, Rhode Island at 38% and Oklahoma at 37%.
  • Other than Alaska’s statewide congressional district, Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District that covers northern Minnesota has the largest fishing economy in the nation at $631.8 million. 
  • In Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District in the north, some 42% of residents fish. In Minnesota’s 8th District, it's 41%.
  • There are approximately 74 million anglers in the United States; of those, roughly 50 million fish each year.
  • Recreational fishing generates $51.2 billion in retail sales each year nationally. Fishing produces $16.4 billion in state and federal tax revenues. More than 826,000 jobs are supported by recreational angling.
  • More Americans fish than play golf (20.9 million) and tennis (13.1 million) combined.

Source: American Sportfishing Association

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