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Minnesota Fishing Opener lived up to great expectations

Fishing opener. (Gary Korsgaden / For the Enterprise)

By Gary Korsgaden / For the Enterprise

Hundreds of thousands of anglers took to Minnesota’s waters for what will be labeled as one of the best in years. 

By midday Friday, bumper to bumper traffic with vehicles pulling boats was a common site on 371 leading out of Brainerd. Park Rapids bait and tackle outlets stayed open into the early morning hours on Saturday to accommodate the needs of the enthusiastic fisherman.

Early ice out and spawn with the abundance of shiner minnows in area bait shops set up the likes of a perfect storm for angling enthusiasts. Mid-week found the water temperatures hovering in the low sixties, dropping to the mid-fifties on Saturday. Even with the drop in water temperatures, it was not enough to deter walleyes from engulfing fishermen’s offerings.

My opener, once again, was spent with fishing partner Dave Shefland on Leech lake. We hit the water at daybreak, seeking walleyes in the 15’’ to 20” size range that Leech Lake is so well known for. It took searching two areas before finding the fish on a second spot. The presentation was simple, a green or chartreuse 1/8 ounce jig head tipped with shiner. Filling our limit of four fish apiece by mid-morning, one could not ask for better action on the first day of the season.

I must admit that fishing shallow water less than six feet is not my strong suit, but if you expect any consistency in catching opening day walleyes, then the shallow water is where you need to go.

Typical of an early season shiner bite, the best areas are large ones comprised of wind swept shallows and rocky shoals and Leech Lake has no shortage of these. 

Packs of walleyes will graze in the shallows looking for the available vulnerable shiner minnows. Constantly, slowly moving across the area is the best plan of attack. Electronics in the shallow water are almost useless; instead keeping an eye on the other anglers for hook sets and nets flying signals that packs of walleyes are going through the area.

Anglers I spoke with, on lakes in the Park Rapids area, had mixed success. Walleyes were being caught on a number of lakes in 4’ to 20’ of water and lakes with rivers or streams flowing into them provided consistent action on walleyes.

Not only did walleyes show up in anglers’ catches, but so did nice-sized northern pike and crappies. A jig and a shiner was most productive overall but a number of anglers I spoke with did well casting or trolling plugs after midnight Saturday   morning and after dark Saturday evening.

Sunday’s gusty winds, threat of rain and even cooler temperatures found less than a third of the anglers on the water with many rigs loaded up and headed home early.

Labeled by some as a hidden treasure, Vermillion Lake and the community of Tower hosted the Minnesota Governors 2015 Fishing Opener. Gov. Dayton, who landed nine walleyes himself, commented, “This was the most fish I’ve caught on Vermilion at one time,” while fishing guide Buck Lescarbeau’s boat reached the dock around noon Saturday. Dayton’s fish in contrast came out of 42’ of water on a live bait rig and a shiner.

Next year’s Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener will be held on Big Sandy Lake in the McGregor area, May 12-14, 2016. This will be the first time in the history of the Governor’s Fishing Opener that the event will be held there.