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Fishing Opener: Learn from last year; work slow for 'eyes this weekend

Cold water temperatures are likely to make Minnesota's walleye and northern pike fishing opener on Saturday, May 11, similar to last year's opener as far as tactics and results.

"It should be the same as last year," said Wayne Godfrey, co-owner of Godfrey's in Backus. "Water temperature is about the same. I believe walleyes will be shallower. With the cold, cold water they'll be running a lot slower."

Sherree Wicktor, owner of S & W Bait north of Brainerd, agreed, saying the ice went out in plenty of time for people to get their docks in the water and boats ready.

"But water temperatures haven't been good," she said, noting it's been too cold overnight for waters to warm, and water temperatures haven't reached 50 degrees yet.

Wicktor said walleyes should be done spawning so she also predicted anglers should find them up in the shallows and in the weeds. Locally, she advised anglers to try the north or south ends of Gull Lake or North Long Lake.

Kyle Krueger, owner of Boomer's Bait & Tackle in Nisswa, also said cooler temperatures may have slowed things in area lakes, including spawning and bait trapping, but he expects anglers to have a "fine" time finding fish.

For bait, Krueger expects anglers to find some success with shiners, but recommends trying a few different baits if the fish just aren't biting.

"I think the spottail shiner is the go-to bait for people the first few weeks of the season," Krueger said. "That is what the walleyes target when they are in the shallows where the spottails are spawning ... But you can't exclude things like leeches and crawlers. It's good to have a few options to put in front of them and let them decide."

With slower fish, anglers should use slower tactics, Godfrey said.

"Minnow-wise, shiners - I do believe we will have them," he said. "Fatheads will work great, but a slower presentation, a shorter snell on a Lindy Rig or jig. Leech (Lake) will be good again. Pine Mountain will be hit hard. Those are the two major walleye lakes around here and I will be on one of the two Saturday evening."

Wicktor suggested people try leeches and nightcrawlers, and she said a decent supply of rainbow minnows is coming in. She said anglers must accept that they can't always have a shiner minnow. Because of supply and demand, shiners are more expensive than redtail minnows, which she called crazy.

"There are plenty of shiners, but not where we can get them anymore," Wicktor said, citing infested waters, which has changed the bait industry in the past four to five years.

Like fish, bait also runs by water temperature, and bait was also affected by winter kill, she said.

Krueger also recommended finding the warmest water possible - often in shallower waters - and cast there, as walleyes will likely find warm spot to spend their time.

"They are going to find warmer water, and that half of a degree can make all the difference in the world," Krueger said. "I wouldn't say a 15-foot bowl is going to be any better than, say, Leech Lake; you just need to find the warmer water. Those fish are going to find that warmer water."

If someone has trouble landing walleyes, Godfrey said crappies could be arriving to spawn around the same time. If the timing is right, they could also provide a fun bite.

Wicktor also pointed anglers to crappies.

"If they can't catch a walleye, they sure can go for panfish next weekend," she said. "Everyone is chomping to get out."

Wicktor had more advice for those heading out onto area waters Saturday.

"Have a nice time, have fun. Remember boat safety and patience at the landing," she said.

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny with a high near 58.

Friday night: Chance of showers after 1 a.m. Mostly cloudy with a low around 41.

Saturday: Chance of showers, with thunderstorms also possible after 1 p.m. Mostly cloudy with a high near 57.

Saturday night: Chance of showers before 1 a.m. Mostly cloudy with a low around 38.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high near 60.

Source: National Weather Service in Duluth