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Conditions set for favorable fishing opener

Kody Mead, 13, enjoys a nice day for fishing as he casts for bass on the Fish Hook River on the south side of Highway 34 in Park Rapids on Sunday. Park Rapids area lakes are expected to be busy this weekend as walleye fishing opens on Saturday morning. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)

Typically the Minnesota Fishing Opener coincides with Mother’s Day weekend but this year’s opener kicks off May 14.

Early ice-out and a significant early-spring warm-up could have a positive effect on this weekend’s fishing opener if anglers are aware of where to make the catch.

Ice-out in Hubbard County began nearly two weeks earlier than normal this year during a warm-up in March.

According to Park Rapids Area DNR Fisheries Supervisor Doug Kingsley, northern pikes began their spring spawning right after ice-out and the walleyes began shortly after.

"The fish were spawning earlier and it drug out longer than usual," Kingsley said.

The eggs at the fishery have hatched and the DNR will still be stocking lakes this week leading up to the opener. Kingsley said they hope to be done stocking by Thursday.

With the lakes being open sooner and the fish spawning earlier in the spring than is typical Kingsley said it will affect fishing.

Typically this time of year the fish would be in shallower waters but now that they are done spawning they will have moved into deeper water and resumed post spawn patterns.

Low precipitation throughout the year has resulted in low soil moisture and smaller watersheds; causing low water levels in lakes and ponds.

Fish are extremely sensitive to passing fronts and pressure changes.

Warm fronts with lower pressure and weaker winds bring fish closer to the surface and liven them up.

Cold fronts with lower pressure will lead to favorable fishing conditions as well. Fish can sense the changes in pressure and will often increase their activity in the days before a cold front; creating good conditions for catching.

Walleye populations are abundant in varying sizes in many of the DNR’s stocked lakes. Strong year-classes of walleye and stocking efforts have contributed to excellent walleye fishing in the natural walleye lakes as well.

Typically, the DNR will survey the fish populations every five years depending on how much fishing pressure and traffic lakes are seeing.

During assessments of Upper and Lower Bottle Lakes in 2013, walleye abundance was higher than any previous sampling. Most of the walleyes in the sample were 12 to 17 inches in length and are expected to be 15 to 20 inches this season. These lakes also have good populations of pike, bluegill, sunfish and bass.

Walleye sizes have been consistent in samples of Straight Lake, measuring 15 to 21 inches in the most recent 2015 sample. Most northern pike sampled in the 2015 assessment were between 20 to 25 inches, but some were measured at 36 inches in length. Bluegill, largemouth bass and black crappie populations are also good on Straight Lake.

Kingsley says anglers should remember special regulations on area lakes that differ from statewide regulations. Of those including:

- Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Crow Wing Lakes have a 40-inch minimum length limit for northern pike, with one over 40-inches allowed in possession.

- Fifth and Sixth Crow Wing Lakes, Lake George, Big Mantrap Lake and Blueberry Lake have a 24- to 36-inch protected slot length limit for northern pike, allowing anglers to keep northern pike less than 24 inches or one over 36 inches in possession and requires immediate release of pike between 24 and 36 inches.

- Big Sand and Kabekona Lakes have more restrictive walleye regulations while Big Mantrap and Spider Lakes have more restrictive crappie regulations.

- Lester Lake has a catch and release only regulation on all species.

- La Salle Lake has reduced possession limits of two for walleye, five for crappie and sunfish, 10 for perch and catch and release only for bass.

- Kabekona Lake has had an experimental walleye regulation since 2006 intended to increase natural reproduction; the 2014 assessment showed a record abundance.

Starting this year, all walleye between 20 and 26 inches caught on Kabekona Lake must be immediately released. Anglers are allowed to harvest walleye less than 20 inches and one over 26 inches in a possession limit of four.

Anglers should refer to specific regulations in the Minnesota Fishing Regulations Booklet which can be accessed online at

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/regulations/fishing/index.html

Every spring, public accesses on Minnesota lakes need an extensive amount of work to ramps due to ice damage. With an early ice-out much of the region has been able get loading docks in shape for the 2016 opener.

According to Kingsley, anglers should also be aware of the lower water levels on most if not all of the lakes this year; especially when loading and unloading boats at public accesses.

"The water might be shallower than anglers are used to so they need to be aware," Kingsley explained about taking precautions to prevent damage to trailers and boats.

He would also like to remind anglers to help prevent the spread of invasive species by "following all of the regulations, clean off vegetation and drain out live-wells."

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