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Minnesota fishing opener approaches

Word around the bait store is the walleye bite might be a little light this year as anglers prepare to drop lines Saturday, May 14, for the Minnesota fishing opener.

Fishing boats on a lake
Anglers on Gull Lake during a past walleye and northern pike fishing opener.
File Photo / Echo Journal
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BRAINERD — The Minnesota fishing opener is upon the state once again as anglers put their ice shacks away and begin mixing up the 2-cycle boat gas while the industry prepares for another busy year.

Anglers looking to nab a trophy walleye Saturday, May 14, could be in for some long days this year as they search the old hot spots, looking for those early season bites.

With the lakes finally transitioning to open water, Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait by North Long Lake, is looking forward to one of her busiest days of the season, Minnesota’s fishing opener.

S&W Bait will be open 41 hours for opening day, from 5 a.m. Friday, May 13, to 10 p.m. Saturday and returning to regular hours Sunday.

Woman and dog standing next to fishing bait
Talking about this year's bait outlook Wednesday, May 11, 2022, Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait and her favorite employee Poppy look forward to the fishing opener.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“I think we're gonna be busy and I think the crappies are really gonna be biting,” Wicktor said. “You know, nice weather is actually predicted other than this rain here and there. But the walleyes, they're gonna be in shallow (waters).”

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Marc Bacigalupi, the Brainerd area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, agreed on a good crappie bite this weekend but said the warmup will help with the bite. Fish will be more active and feeding if the water temperatures are into the 50s as opposed to in the 40s.

“It has been a late spring,” Bacigalupi said. “So people fishing for walleyes might be keying in on post-spawn locations in areas with current, maybe the side of the lake that's a little warmer.”

Ready for the opener with plenty of bait, Jason Bahr, owner of Tutt's Bait & Tackle on Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison, is concerned about maintaining his supply of leeches at an affordable price. Tutt's Bait & Tackle will be open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday, it will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will return to normal business hours Monday.

“Right now, everything's fine. The spottails had a good run and we're going to have plenty of shiners, but the concern now is leeches,” Bahr said. “Leeches might be hard to get in and therefore, if that happens, leeches are going to get expensive, unfortunately. But right now that's the only one that we've heard that could be a bit of a challenge.”

Though bait shops are supplied by different distributors, they rely on water temperatures for baitfish as well. The late start to spring is setting the supply of bait back as water temps begin to rise.

Wicktor said she likes to have a good supply of bait about a week before the opener as she has a few customers who get their bait early as they will be traveling to go fishing. She usually has about 300 to 400 pounds of leeches before the opener, but is currently sitting on 30 pounds.

A hand full of leeches
Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait, talks about the supply of leeches this year Wednesday, May 11, 2022, as she prepares for the fishing opener.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“I'm seeing the guys every day with something, but I'm not happy yet,” Wicktor said, adding she’s worried about the amount of bait coming into her store.

Besides predicting some tough catching for walleye, Col. Rod Smith, DNR director of enforcement, said there may be an increase of people on the lakes this year as a lot of people haven't had a chance to try out their boats or anything, so it could end up a little hectic at the landing.

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Smith said allowing enough time to be delayed is always a good plan for opening weekend. With the varying degrees of skill when it comes to backing boats and boat trailers into the access into the water, patience is key as the lake accesses are limited.

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“Safety is always in season and so with the fishing opener, we hope that folks take some time and prepare before they hit the water,” Smith said. “That means going through and checking your equipment on your boat before getting out on the water.”

On Mille Lacs Lake, there are concerns over the number of anglers who may visit the area with additional restrictions in place.

For Terry Thurmer, owner of Terry's Boat Harbor on Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison, the last few years have seen a downturn in the number of people around the lake with the walleye restrictions.

Terry's Boat Harbor will be open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 5:30 a.m to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, returning to normal business hours Monday.

“Not being able to keep fish in the summer on Mille Lacs has been devastating for these businesses,” Thurmer said of the area.

The open water walleye restriction on Mille Lacs, including all tributaries from the mouth upstream to its posted boundaries, has a possession limit of one walleye and all walleye shorter than 21 inches or longer than 23 inches in length must be immediately released, except one walleye 28 inches or greater, from Saturday through May 31.

How many fish one can keep has changed over the years, Bahr said as he talked about growing up fishing with his grandfather, though a change to the way things are done may not always be a negative.

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“When I used to go fishing with my grandpa, you caught a fish, it was in the bucket, no matter what,” Bahr said. “It didn't matter if it was 4 inches long or if it was 40 inches long, we're keeping it. These younger guys and gals are totally about catch and release. They want to go out and catch a walleye to take a picture for their Instagram page or Snapchat and then guess what. The walleye — it goes back (in the water). So I don't get overly concerned about it.”

With restrictions possibly changing from lake to lake and the threat of invasive species, the DNR recommends its LakeFinder app , which has everything from vegetation reports to fishing regulations for most Minnesota lakes.

Smith wanted to remind anglers to get their new 2022-23 fishing license and to carry it with them, which is easier now with cellphones.

“People can also buy them right off their phone and then store them on their phone electronically … and most people always have their phone on them,” Smith said.

With all the advances in technology to help anglers get out onto the water, the DNR’s aquatic invasive species unit supervisor Heidi Wold reminded those planning to enjoy Minnesota’s water to take five minutes to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species.

“Clean, drain, dispose, and then wash and dry” your boat before leaving the lake, Wolf said, referencing Minnesota’s drain plug law .

“Draining things like bait buckets and any kind of equipment where water is held,” Wolf said. “If they can do that, it’s for the best, and then disposing of any unwanted bait in the garbage.”

For those looking for something different, Bacigalupi said the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area will have trout stocked and don’t forget about the Mississippi River and the Crow Wing River, which “around here, that can have some really good early season spots.”

Mille Lacs Lake 2022 restrictions

  • Walleye

    • May 14-31:

      • Possession limit is 1.
      • All walleye shorter than 21 inches or longer than 23 inches in length must be immediately released, except one walleye 28 inches or longer may be kept.
    • June 1-30:

      • All walleye must be immediately released.
    • July 1-15:

      • Walleye fishing is closed.
      • Walleye may not be targeted.
    • July 16-Aug. 31:

      • All walleye must be immediately released.
    • Sept. 1-Nov. 30:

      • Possession limit is 1.
      • All walleye shorter than 21 inches or longer than 23 inches in length must be immediately released, except one walleye 28 inches or greater may be kept.
  • Northern pike: For angling and spearing, all longer than 30 inches must be immediately released. Limit of three from Saturday, May 14, through Friday, March 31, 2023. Spearing season coincides with the statewide spearing season.
  • Smallmouth and largemouth bass: All bass longer than 17 inches must be immediately released during the harvest season. Limit of three in combination. Angling seasons follow statewide fishing seasons.
  • Night closure

    • May 16-June 3: No fishing for any species 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
    • June 4-Aug. 31: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., no fishing allowed. See exemptions.
    • Sept. 1-Nov. 30: Midnight to 6 a.m., no fishing allowed. See exemptions.
    • Exemptions:

      • Muskellunge and northern pike: Beginning June 4, these species may be targeted with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. While fishing during the night closure, people may not possess or target any species other than muskellunge or northern pike.
      • Bowfishing for non-game fish: People may not possess angling equipment while bowfishing and only non-game fish may be in possession.
  • Bait restrictions

    • July 1-15: Anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge can use sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. But anglers targeting all other fish species may not use live, dead, preserved or parts of minnows, night crawlers, worms, leeches or crayfish.

Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2020, covering Public Safety and the Baxter City Council.
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