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Fishing for an early opener

Bait sellers like Rick Bartelt of Four Corners are among those who are hoping for an extra week of fishing this year, as the legislature debates whether to change the walleye opener from May 12 to May 5.

Minnesota could be seeing an earlier start to the big fishing season this year.

"This is it -- this is the start of the madness," said Chris Denardo, as he helps his crew from J&K Marine prepare the docks and lifts on Little Detroit.

The crew is out much earlier this year because of a record-breaking early ice out, and the jump start could be a necessary one for them, as some legislators are pushing for the walleye opener to be pulled back one week early.

The big day is currently set for May 12, but if the house-approved proposal also passes the senate and the governor, it would be moved to May 5 -- making Cinco de Mayo a real day of celebration for anglers.

The move would also make some mothers happy, as the opener for walleye, sauger and northern pike is currently scheduled for mother's day weekend.

"Moving up the date would be a good thing for me because we celebrate Mother's Day big time with the family," said Mike Parnell, who owns Anchor Inn on Cotton Lake, but lives down in White Bear Lake. "It would mean I could actually be here (at the resort) for opener this year."

While scheduling hassles seem to be a sore spot for some Minnesota resort owners, others are hoping for the one-time change or simply don't care.

"I don't think it'll effect us much here," said Dan Berg, owner of Lakecrest Resort near Detroit Lakes. "We actually don't see a lot of fishing opener businesses -- we start to get busy in the summer."

An extremely warm spring has meant fishing enthusiasts have already been pan fishing for a few weeks now, but some experts say it's the walleyes that pull people into lakes country.

"I think moving the date up would be a great idea for commerce and industry," said local fishing guide Brad Laabs, who admits he'd also like to see the bass opener moved up as well. "With the early spawn and warming waters, I think it'd be an absolutely great idea."

And while DNR officials seem to have no official stance as to what they believe is best, Detroit Lakes DNR Fisheries expert Jim Walthers says if the weather patterns remain warmer than normal, there would probably be a good, early bite as the spawning process is about a week ahead of schedule.

He says both weekends will probably be biologically ideal for catching fish.

"But there are a few places where an early season has the potential to affect lakes -- like Mille Lacs, where there is a set limit to how much can be harvested out, so an additional week could affect those regulations and how they deal with them," said Walthers, who says this year's early ice out could also prove to be rough on the pan fish and lake trout.

"The way they are, if anglers troll lures near the surface, they can have pretty good catch rates," said Walthers, "so moving it up by a week would take a toll on lake trout," he says, adding that those are not found in lakes country.

So while the uniqueness of this spring has legislators debating the pros and cons of a one-week change for this year only, those preparing for the season know the clock could be ticking a little faster.

"An extra week would make things a little interesting for us because we do about 400 customer docks around the area," said Denardo, "and right now everybody is getting antsy and wants their docks in right now."

Denardo says their early jump on the main marina on Little Detroit could be what saves them if the bill is passed.

"We should have the majority of our people in before opener even if it's a week earlier," said Denardo, "and that'd be nice because then it wouldn't interfere with mom's day, and that's a good thing."

The bill is currently sitting in the Minnesota Senate.