Lakes area anglers can breathe a little easier now that area lakes are ice-free and bait stores are offering live bait for the Saturday, May 12, walleye and northern pike fishing opener.

"Mother Nature straightened herself out, kind of," said Sherree Wicktor, owner of S & W Bait north of Brainerd.

"I feel a lot more confident in what we have," Wicktor said of the live bait coming into her store, especially compared to the previous week, when it was questionable how much live bait would be available because of the late spring and cold, still-frozen waters.

"We're getting a little bit of everything," Wicktor said, including leeches, golden shiners and rainbow chubs. She doesn't expect to see the popular spottail shiners though because the water still needs to warm up. Wayne Godfrey, of Godfrey's Family Market in Backus, is in the same boat with live bait, and he said the store is getting a very limited supply of shiner minnows for opener.

"I will have all the suckers, fatheads and crappie minnows I will need," Godfrey said. "I should have all the leeches I will need. I will have some shiners. I don't know what type they will be, but I'm happy to have any shiner right now. I won't have enough, and things could change by Friday if it stays warm and they start running, but I will have some shiners."

---   ---   ---   ---   ---

Weather outlook

  • FRIDAY NIGHT: A slight chance of showers before 1 a.m. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 36.
  • SATURDAY: A slight chance of showers before 1 p.m. Partly sunny, with a high near 59.
  • SATURDAY NIGHT: Partly cloudy, with a low around 39.
  • SUNDAY: Mostly sunny, with a high near 68.
  • SUNDAY NIGHT: Mostly clear, with a low around 43.

Source: National Weather Service

---   ---   ---   ---   ---

Kyle Krueger, of Boomer's Bait & Tackle in Nisswa, expects to be short-handed on spottails as well, but believes the shop is "pretty solid across the board" on other forms of bait.

Some of the biggest local lakes have lagged behind when it comes to ice-out, which could affect fishing.

Krueger has heard reports of ice still present on Leech Lake, but believes the Brainerd area lakes are clear, with the possible exception of a few floating chunks left.

"At least we will have enough open water so people can get out and try different bodies of water," Krueger said. "There will be plenty of fishing opportunities. A month ago, it wasn't looking that way. Mother Nature has a way of taking care of business."

The possibility of lingering ice isn't all negative, however, as late ice-out can apparently result in successful angling ahead of the annual spawn run.

"Pine Mountain and Leech are the two lakes I usually open on," Godfrey said. "Whichever one is biting better I will hit Saturday night. This year it may be Leech because they may not have spawned and it can be such amazing fishing then."

However, Krueger expects fish to be in depths of 5 feet or less due to the lingering ice.

"I think (the late ice-out) is going to affect where the fish are," Krueger said. "If I had to guess, I think I would be looking in shallow waters, because that is where the warmer water is going to be. One or two degrees of difference in surface temperature can make all the difference in the world for where the fish are going to be."

Wicktor suggested that anglers test their boats in the water before Saturday so they don't plug up boat landings. Then she advised them to fish in the shallow, warmer water.

"They'll be in the channels. They'll be moving," she said, adding, "I think it's going to be an excellent crappie bite."

Godfrey agreed that while spawning may not have started yet in bigger, colder lakes, smaller, warmer waters will likely be more dependable and productive.

"The smaller lakes will probably be better fishing because they will probably be spawned out and the fish will be feeding again," Godfrey said.

Godfrey recommends jigging or Lindy Rigs with live bait (with shiners or fat heads). Anglers generally start opener in 8-12 feet of water and then move in shallower if the wind is up. If rainwater runoff from the shore muddies the water, Godfrey said shallower fishing may be even more effective.