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McFeely: Bad idea for fishing, but good experience

Ryan Aanes of Baxter, Minn., shows off a walleye he caught on Lake Lida near Pelican Rapids on the Minnesota fishing opener Saturday, May 12. (Contributed photo)

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — A lake, even at 2 o'clock in the morning with not a whisper of wind and not another soul silly enough to be fishing in a boat, is almost never completely quiet.

Loons, for example, are using their silly yodel to call back and forth even when the next sunrise is nearer than the previous sunset. Owls, not unexpectedly given their nocturnal nature, are hoot-hoot-hooting for most of the black night. And Canada geese. Who knew honkers honked to each other at 3:30 a.m.?

There were a number of other unidentified critters that kept up a natural racket for the several hours I was on Franklin Lake in Otter Tail County to christen the Minnesota walleye fishing opener early in the morning of Saturday, May 12.

Combine those noises with the hum of the trolling motor or the growling of the gas-powered 115 horsepower on the back of my boat and it was rarely ever dead quiet from the time I launched my Lund at the public access at 12:01 to the time I loaded it back on the trailer about 4:30 a.m. There were a couple of stretches between 2 and 3 a.m., perhaps 10 minutes long each, when I had neither motor running and the birds fell silent and there were no cars zipping down a nearby road ... and it was silent. Not a sound. It seemed sacrilege to even make a cast and splash the top of the water with a crankbait. So, for minutes at a time, I didn't.

If you believe there was some sort of mystical epiphany at the root of my inactivity, like I was just wanted to sit back and let the mad-rush of a technologically driven world melt away—you would be wrong. The reason I had time to sit back and soak in the silence was because it was clear there was no compelling reason to toss the bait for long stretches.

I didn't catch a walleye, or anything else, on the opener. My best-laid plans were anything but good.

Some quick background.

I've lived in Minnesota for most of my 51 years and in the last 35 have fished the opener more often than not. But I'd never done the nutty thing many anglers do. I'd never been on the water fishing when the season officially opened at 12:01. Not from a boat, not from shore, not standing on a dock.

I came close a year ago, waking at 2 a.m. in Moorhead and driving to Franklin to be fishing by 3:30. It worked. I trolled long, minnow-like crankbaits along a stretch of shallow water and caught some walleyes. But the bite was short-lived because as soon as the sun started to faintly glow in the eastern sky, the walleyes stopped cooperating.

But I caught some walleyes on the opener, which for an utterly mediocre angler like myself was a big deal.

Logic would seem to dictate that if the walleyes were biting at 3:30 and done by 4:45, getting on the water earlier would mean a longer stretch of fun. Combine that with a hankering to do the 12:01 thing—just to say I did it once—and there I was on Franklin Lake in the enveloping blackness listening to loons wail.

But this year is not last year. I trolled the same areas with the same baits, and tried different baits and different areas, and caught exactly nothing. Zippo. I gave up at 4:30.

That doesn't mean some anglers didn't catch fish. My buddy Tony Mariotti of Detroit Lakes, Minn., caught some walleyes from shore on Lake Lida almost immediately at 12:01. Mariotti and Ryan Aanes of Baxter, Minn., went out on Lida later in the morning and caught a couple of fish in 22 feet.

"Not too many boats out here," Mariotti said. "I would have never thought the fish would be so deep. After dark the shallow water should be fantastic. We saw a lot of fish in the shallows last night.'

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Area Fisheries Chief Jim Wolters of Fergus Falls said he expected a good opener because walleyes completed a very quick spawn about 10 days ago and the females had time to recover. The late ice-out might have been offset by quickly warming water, Wolters thought.

Either way, lakes country was alive Friday and Saturday. Business owners in Pelican Rapids were eagerly awaiting fishermen—and their wallets—after a long winter.

"It's good to see cars on Main Street. Everybody's in a little better mood because we know we're kicking off summer," said Andrew Johnson of the Pelican Paddle Company, which rents kayaks to use on the Pelican River. "There's a little buzz."

Except on Franklin Lake between midnight and 4:30 a.m.. There were noises, but no buzz—or walleyes. What seemed like a good idea at the time to catch fish was not, but the first-time experience was worth it. Whether there will be a second time remains to be seen.