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Ready. Set. Fish! Excitement builds for Minnesota opener

Todd Larson drains water from a cooler containing leeches while delivering the bait to Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Jeff Caywood shops for fishing tackle at Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle on Thursday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Thursday turned out to be a pretty good day after all up at Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle outside Duluth.

The sun came out. The snow was melting fast. But the best part?

The minnow truck showed up.

"We weren't sure if we were going to get the truck today or maybe not until Saturday. That's never happened before,'' said John Chalstrom, proprietor.

John Chalstrom (left) scoops minnows for John Nickila at Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle Thursday. Steve Kuchera / News TribuneWhen you sell live bait for a living it's definitely good to have the bait to sell before the biggest day of the year, Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener. Because of winter kill in some ponds and because cold water has delayed spawning, minnows are in short supply so far this spring across much of Minnesota.

Shiners are still hard if not impossible to find; they just haven't spawned yet to be netted. But the truck brought in plenty of chubs and crappie minnows.

The leech guy showed up Thursday, too.Thanks to the cold water, the leeches are small. But at least they showed up.

Customers were dropping in Chalstrom's at a fast clip Thursday afternoon. Others were calling to ask what bait was available as word spread earlier in the week of this spring's minnow shortage.

David Salo of Island Lake showed up early at the bait shop to make sure he got his three dozen chub minnows. Salo will be out there Saturday morning with a jig and minnow rig and friends and family, depending on who is willing to brave the usual opening day weather.

"It will be cold. It will probably be windy. But you have to go. It's the opener,'' Salo said. "It's a tradition."

John Nickila of Chisholm was getting ready to spend opening day on Whiteface Lake where he has a cabin. He bought two dozen chub minnows Thursday and, like Salo, said he wouldn't miss an opening day.

"It's a crapshoot with the weather and the ice out and whether the fish will bite,'' Nickila said. "And you don't know where they will be. I'll go all the way across the lake to fish only to find out they were biting right off my dock."

Jack Singler of Duluth will be on Island Lake on Saturday, after walleyes of course. He wanted to get shiners and chubs at Chalstroms but had to settle for just chubs. He picked up his fishing license, too.

For Singler, like an estimated half-million other anglers expected to be out Saturday, opening day is all about family, fun and fishing.

"No matter the weather, we go,'' Singler said, noting that two of his sons and two grandsons will join him.

Dave Hughes of Duluth likes Rice Lake for the opener. He says he has had great luck on the shallow lake just outside Duluth. He bought leeches and chubs and will be using jigs and slip bobbers.

"We've had some incredible days out there, some good openers,'' Hughes said.

Minnows are delivered to Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle Thursday. Steve Kuchera / News TribuneFarther north, Mike Berg, owner and chief guide at Seagull Creek Fishing Camp near the end of the Gunflint Trail, said lakes in his area are open and ready to fish.

"Seagull's been open for a little while now. Sag, the last ice I think went out Tuesday or Wednesday. Gunflint should be open; maybe a little ice on the east end,'' Berg said. "There may still be ice this weekend on some of the higher elevation lakes back toward Grand Marais, like Devil's Track and Greenwood, but all the other lakes are fishable."

While the ice may be out on his favorite lakes, Berg noted, the water is still very cold. That can make for sluggish walleye action.

"Slow it down. Live bait, if you can get it. They (walleyes) aren't going to be aggressive," said Berg, who may hold the record for most 30-inch plus walleyes caught in Minnesota. "When you get a cool-down at this point of spring it affects everything, from minnows right up to the big fish."

Reports from Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods noted those lakes also are ice free and fishable.

The Minnesota fishing opener

• Minnesota's inland fishing season opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday for walleyes, northern pike, bass (with restrictions; consult regulations) and lake trout.

• You can safely bet Minneosta will have about 1.1 million licensed anglers this year. License sales have been amazingly consistent over the past 10 years — between 1.11 and 1.19 million. About half of those anglers are estimated to be out on opening weekend, if the weather is nice.

• Fishing licenses are available at ELS (Electronic Licensing System) agents statewide, such as bait shops and sporting goods stores, as well as online at or by phone at 888-665-4236.

• Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan will spend the 72nd annual Governor's Fishing Opener on Fountain Lake near Albert Lea, just miles from the Iowa border.

• May 11 and 12 are "Take A Mom Fishing Weekend" when Minnesota resident moms fish free, no license needed. Don't forget, Mother's Day is May 12.

• Wear your life jacket. Water temperatures will be very cold and survival time if you fall in will be short. The shock of cold water can also cause a gasp reflex that can lead to drowning.

Weather forecast

It will be cool at sunrise, with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s. Bring a rainsuit. The National Weather Service is calling for a partly sunny day with a 30 percent chance of showers, mainly after 1p.m., with high temperatures in the upper 50s. It will be breezy, with a south wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.

Ice out?

Virtually all Minnesota lakes are open, most of them since late April. Some lakes near the Ontario border, especially in the Grand Marais area, still hold some ice. DNR crews were unable to install docks at some Cook County boat landings because of residual ice this week.