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Cold waters may lead to issues for Minnesota's walleye and northern pike fishing opener

With ice melting late and water temps still low, certain fish may not bite this weekend

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The ice is off the lakes, paving the way for the walleye and northern pike fishing season to begin Saturday, May 14.

With it, scores of anglers will take to the lakes throughout the Brainerd area and the state as a whole. Among those anglers is Gov. Tim Walz, who will fish on Lake Winnibigoshish on the big day.

However, those anglers may be faced with a few challenges, thanks in part to a lack of bait and unseasonably cold water temperatures.

I think by the time we get to the opener, you should probably go crappie fishing, to be honest with you.
Sherree Wicktor, Owner of S & W Bait and Tackle

“A success would be having open water,” S & W Bait and Tackle owner Sherree Wicktor said. “I would imagine that as cold as we are right now - even though we have warm weather coming - our water needs to warm up. Our fishing and our trapping all depend on water temperature.

The ice seems to have finally melted off of area lakes, but Wicktor said she believes it will be too cold for the walleye bite to be very good this weekend - if there is even much of a walleye bite at all.

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"I think by the time we get to the opener, you should probably go crappie fishing, to be honest with you," she said. "As far as bait goes, right now we're sitting here hoping to warm up a little bit because nobody's getting anything … Right now, most of us are sitting with a lot of empty tanks.”

Brian Nerbonne, central region fisheries manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, agreed that uncommon water conditions may mean the fish species most anglers want “may not be in their traditional habitat” on opening morning.

“It’s probably going to be different patterns than what people are used to seeing,” Nerbonne said. “A lot of times, we'll have had ice off the lakes for several weeks before the fishing opener, and that gives a lot of the fish species that people are going to be targeting time to go through their spawning routines …

"That is maybe not going to be the case this year," he said. "The fish are probably still actively spawning this week.”

If you've got some clouds and a little bit of wind that puts that chop in the water, that can actually be a real benefit for anglers to be able to catch fish.
Brian Nerbonne, DNR Central Region Fisheries Manager

One potential saving grace for the walleye bite is a chance of rain Saturday, which is slight but could cause the fish to move more if the clouds open up.

“Walleye, because they've got that big eye that's very sensitive to light, tend to not be real active on a bright, sunny day,” Nerbonne said. “If you've got some clouds and a little bit of wind that puts that chop in the water, that can actually be a real benefit for anglers to be able to catch fish.

"It also depends on the barometer and what it's doing - if you've got a low pressure system going through, a lot of times it will also be a trigger for fish to be a little more active,” he said.

That said, anglers may still have issues catching some of the larger species, given that live bait is proving difficult to find in the still-frigid waters of the lakes area.

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“It’s still going to be too cold to really get the fish moving,” Wicktor said. “Shiners need 58 to 62 degrees to run, and we are nowhere near that … Somebody told me we are at 42 degrees (as of Thursday, May 5).

Wicktor also wanted to remind anglers to exercise patience at public landings, as high traffic - and potentially, boats that will not start - commonly leads to logjams those first few days of the season.

Nerbonne, on the other hand, wanted people to take note of cold conditions and focus on their own safety.

“Water temps are going to be cold, and people should wear their (personal flotation devices),” Nerbonne said. “We had a couple people down here in the metro that drowned last week when they got ejected from their boat. In cold waters, you're not going to last for very long, especially if you're not wearing a life jacket.”

Another important reminder from Wicktor is that anglers may need to temper their expectations, at least for a few weeks.

“Just be happy to get panfish if the walleyes don’t bite, because it might be that way,” Wicktor said. “In my opinion, look for Memorial Day weekend to be fantastic for walleye.”

Weather forecast

  • Friday night: Partly cloudy with a low around 51. West wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening. Winds could gust as high as 15 mph.
  • Saturday: A chance of showers, mainly after 1 p.m. Partly sunny with a high near 65. Breezy with a west wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.
  • Saturday night: A slight chance of showers before 1 a.m. Partly cloudy with a low around 44. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.
  • Sunday: A slight chance of showers. Mostly sunny with a high near 60. Breezy with a northwest wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph.
  • Sunday night: A slight chance of showers. Mostly clear with a low around 40. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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