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Fishing season opens at midnight, experts optimistic

Kevin Habeck of Woodbury does not usually get this much attention when he sells fishing licenses at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But when Gov. Tim Pawlenty stopped by on Wednesday, journalists followed. The governor said he would be in touch with St. Paul this weekend even though he will be fishing near the Canadian border on Lake Kabetogema. Photo/Don Davis

The walleyes should be in a cooperative mood when the season opens tonight at midnight, according to Park Rapids Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor Edie Evarts.

"We completed our egg-take a couple of weeks ago and the walleyes should be hungry after spawning," Evarts said. "I've always assumed that walleyes are ready to eat as soon as spawning is over. They spent a great deal of energy to complete the spawning and now they need to replace that energy."

This spring the walleye run began very early but was interrupted by inclement weather. Eventually, the spawning urge returned and by late-April the majority of the fish had spawned.

"We pulled out of our egg-take location on April 16," said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Assistant Supervisor Andy Thompson. "The spawning wasn't done then, but I suspect it ended about three weeks ago in this area."

Traditionally, opening-day walleyes are concentrated near current flow and the shoreline breaks. Anglers can expect to find fish in those areas again this year but drop-offs near the breaks and mid-lake structure also warrant a drift or two.

Finding exactly where the fish will be, however, is the challenge.

"If I knew exactly where to go I'd be there on Saturday," Thompson said. "We've had an earlier spring this year relative to the weather, and the opener relative to the calendar is as late as it can be. The walleyes have had more time to scatter, so it may be harder to find them."

Mark Cook of Bluewater Outdoors agrees.

"I think it will be early-June fishing," Cook said. "I think the walleyes could be around the shoreline and mid-lake structure more than the river mouths.

"I also think we'll see more large fish because they have had the time to rest and recuperate from the spawn."

Shiner minnows are the bait of choice for most opening-day fishermen, but other minnow species also can produce. The majority of anglers will present their minnows with jigs, but live-bait rigs moved slowly in the strike zone also should be productive.

"In this area opening weekend is always a spot-tail shiner bite," Cook said. "But, that being said, someone always gets an opening-day limit with leeches and crawlers. You think of crawlers as a mid-summer bait, but somebody always does well with them on opening weekend."

Conventional wisdom states that the smaller the lake the better the fishing on opening weekend, but Cook said he believes this year could be different.

"The warmer water is found on the smaller lakes but this year, because of the early spring, I have a feeling that the bigger lakes will be the hot lakes," Cook said. "Many times you don't think of the bigger lakes being hot until the first week of June, but I think Leech, Winnie and Cass could be the best lakes this weekend."

An early spring, a late opener and a forecast for pleasant weather should translate into a successful opener for area anglers. How successful remains to be seen but Cook is optimistic.

"I think this could be one of our best openers," he said.