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Minnesota fishing opener: Walleyes should be feeding

Mike Berg was almost beside himself at midweek. On his way to check his minnow traps, he passed some shallow bays on Sea Gull Lake near the tip of the Gunflint Trail.

"I know the walleyes are in there," said Berg, a long-time Gunflint Trail guide. "I can feel it."

He wanted badly to be fishing because he knew the walleyes would be ready. But he has to wait until Saturday when Minnesota's 2010 fishing season opens.

Most Minnesota fishing openers come smack on the heels of ice-out. Resorts barely have time to open cabins and ready docks.

Not this year.

After record or near-record early ice-out dates, April languished all warm and balmy. The walleyes have long since spawned and should be well past their post-spawn funk.

"They should be ready to put on the feed bag," said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake.

"Every year on opener, you talk about fishing slow, slow, slow," Berg said. "This year, the fish are going to be snapping. I think everything will turn into normal June fishing right away."

Here's an area-by-area look at the opener:

Duluth area

"Fish should be well-recovered from the spawn, and fishing should be fantastic -- unless we get a bunch of snow," said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom's Bait & Tackle.

Ah, always a realist.

"I think it's going to be pretty shallow fishing," Chalstrom said. "They should be nosed into 3, 4 feet of water and feeding ...

"I'd fish with a chub minnow on either a jig or maybe a slip-bobber. Water will still be kind of cold. I wouldn't do anything real fast."

Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake will fish most of his usual spring haunts, he said, and that means spots with incoming current.

"I think it's going to be a great opener," VanValkenburg said. "We're going to be doing more aggressive fishing, not just dragging a minnow with a sinker. I think a guy could be more aggressive, maybe some spinners and bigger baits."

He said he's spoken with anglers fishing for crappies on Island Lake who found walleyes half a mile from current in 12 feet of water.

St. Louis River

On the St. Louis River, anglers aren't likely to find walleyes as far upriver as on most openers, said Bob Maas, a veteran river angler. The only factor that could change that is if a substantial rain falls and the river comes up. That would hold more fish upstream, he said.

"There will be plenty of fish in the river," Maas said. "But more of the fish will be down farther."

He also thinks anglers will do better with June fishing techniques -- spinners and night-crawler rigs -- than the standard jig-and-minnow presentation of most springs.

Grand Rapids area

"I think it's going to be very good," said fishing guide Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids. "Everything is done spawning. Water temperature is in the mid-50s now. That's probably 10 or 12 degrees warmer than in the past few years."

Only a cold front could dampen fishing appreciably, Neustrom said.

"The fish will be shallow, in 14 feet and less, most in 6 to 10 feet," he said. "They ought to be chewing pretty good."


"Jig and minnow. There will be some guys running leeches. Some may use 'crawlers. It's a Memorial-Day-weekend type situation," Neustrom said.

Lake Vermilion

Fishing guide Cliff Wagenbach of Tower will fish the way he always does, in 26 to 36 feet of water. Yes, the season is advanced, he said. But walleyes remain in their early patterns for about three weeks, and he expects them to be near the end of that pattern.

"I was out scouting (with a fish finder) the other day, and I found fish in about half the usual places," Wagenbach said. "I'll start with the same method I always start with -- a jig and minnow or a Lindy rig and minnow. You might be getting some fish on leeches."

Anglers trolling bays with Rapalas should also find fish, he predicted.

"I'm assuming a good portion of your fish will be fairly shallow -- 4 to 10 feet," Wagenbach said. "I hardly ever fish shallow. The fish I've been seeing are at 26 to 30 feet."

Water level is down about 21 inches on Lake Vermilion, but boat accesses are in good shape and launching should be no problem, he said.

Rainy Lake

"I think it will be very good because of the early ice break-up," said 40-year guide John Gushulak of Rainy Lake. "It'll be jig and minnow. I'm sure that's what they'll want."

Water level is down about a foot and a half, said fishing guide Barry Woods.

"That's less water for the fish to hide in," he quipped.

But he looks for an excellent opener.

"We'll probe using June tactics," Woods said. "Weeds are starting to grow. Normally this time of year, we start off shallow, throwing a few jigs, then move deeper. This year, I'll stay in shallow. The fish will be more active. Presentations won't have to be so slow. We'll be able to pull Rapalas. Everything that will work in June will work on the opener."

Saganaga Lake and Gunflint Trail lakes

"You're going to be finding fish coming off the spawn and starting to feed right now," guide Mike Berg of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp said. "They should be very aggressive."

Anglers can use a variety of techniques -- and live baits -- Berg said.

"It won't be such a minnow bite," he said. "Leeches are going to work. 'Crawlers are going to work right from the get-go."

Fish may be more dispersed than concentrated in post-spawning areas, he said. He'll use jigs and Lindy-rigs. Anglers will find fish shallow (3 to 6 feet) and deeper (7 to 12 feet), he said. But even in deeper water, walleyes should be biting.

Kabetogama Lake

Fishing guide Tim Watson will serve as host for Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the Governor's Fishing Opener on Saturday.

"I'm guessing it'll be a shallow-water bite with the early ice-out," Watson said. "The baitfish should have moved into the shallow water. We'll be pitching little jigs or using some Lindy rigs and possibly even some crankbaits if the water is warm enough."