It’s finally here.

At the crack of midnight early Saturday, May 15, Minnesota’s fishing season opens for walleye, northern pike, bass and lake trout.

We wish all anglers, whether local or visiting from around the state, the best of luck as they kick off the open water season.

But when it comes to safety on our area lakes, we urge anglers to depend on being prepared opposed to being simply lucky.

First and foremost is to remember to have enough life jackets for everyone in the boat — and wear them, too.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the two largest contributing factors to boating fatalities are not wearing a life jacket and operator inattention. And the most common causes of boating accidents are falling overboard and capsizing.

Also, the water temperature will be lower than many people might expect.

“The date on the calendar isn’t helpful in determining the temperature of the water,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director, in a news release. “This year’s opener is later in May than usual, but in many places the water temperature remains dangerously cold. Anglers need to be aware of that fact, and plan accordingly.”

About 30% of annual boating fatalities happen during the cold-water season, when the water is less than about 70 degrees, and often involve the victim not wearing a life jacket. Swimming ability means little after an unexpected fall into cold water, as even strong swimmers can succumb to the debilitating effects of cold water within minutes.

Plus, a good life jacket might also serve as an added layer of protection against the elements above the water’s surface. While high temps Saturday and Sunday are expected to be around 65 degrees with winds 5-10 mph, the National Weather Service in Duluth has also forecast a chance of rain showers each day.

Other tips offered by the DNR include:

  • Don’t head out alone, and always tell someone on shore where you are going and when you plan to return.

  • Keep the floor of the boat free of clutter to avoid tripping and falling into the water.

  • Ensure boat is equipped with safety equipment such as life jackets, communication and noise-making devices, and a first-aid kit.

And last, but not least, is avoid drinking alcohol while venturing out on the lakes. And not just during the fishing opener but at any time of the year. Alcohol is involved in about 30% of fatal boat accidents in Minnesota. As the DNR notes on its website: Drunk boating is drunk driving — designate a sober ride on the water and on the road.

With all that in mind, we hope everyone is safe and successful either in their fishing or just in having fun with family and friends. Stay safe everyone, and have a great fishing opener.