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Anglers anticipate opener

This couple got in some early practice crappie fishing Saturday afternoon on Lake Emma. The walleye and northern opener is this weekend. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

In a region where it's practically scandalous for the governor to eschew the jack pine plaid folks by fishing the metro area, the walleye opener is the ultimate lure to the northland.

By this weekend, seasonal cabins will re-open, resort cabins will see some early business and life will begin anew in the north country, land of 10,000 (actually 11,842) lakes.

We need to do something about our license plates. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is fishing White Bear Lake with his press corps and cadre of hangers-on. We'll try to get by without him, but it'd be nice to capitalize on some of the money his 300-person entourage would bring in.

"This is one of our busiest weeks," said Tom Ackerman, who owns Ackerman Plumbing & Heating in Park Rapids. He's opening dozens of cabins this week, turning the water back on, getting things going.

"I don't know if it hinges on the fishing opener, but between the time it's not freezing and people want to start enjoying their cabins, we're busiest," he said.

Jerry Perpich (no relation to a former Minnesota governor or none he claims) of Park Rapids left Delaney's Sports Center Monday with a bag of minnows and his fishing license.

He was heading out crappie fishing. Like Pawlenty, he's going to bypass the walleye opener here.

"It's just too busy," he said. "I like to go to Leech Lake and the landing there is just crazy so I'll wait and go the next weekend. It's be better fishing because it'll be warmer."

As of this past weekend, sheens of thin ice were still glistening off the deepest spots of some area lakes. That ice will disappear by the weekend, but it'll leave ice-cold water and make the elusive hunt for walleyes more challenging, as many will still be spawning.

Shallow waters will attract crowds, which is why Perpich stays away. There won't be many walleyes lurking at 10 feet of water.

"Even though it's been a pretty cool spring, the fish should still be cooperative," said professional fisherman Jason Durham.

"People looking to land a few nice walleye should concentrate on shallow flats and the adjacent drop-offs leading to deeper water. Smaller lakes that warm faster are going to have good numbers of active fish."

Durham said the cool waters won't affect northern pike because they're fairly active in colder climates.

Sales of fishing licenses have been good, but this year anglers renew after April 30 instead of February, said Debbie Lempola, co-owner of Delaney's. That makes sales a bit more concentrated before an early opener.

She and husband Kevin showed off aisles of jigs and new gear.

"It was a long cold winter and the ice fishing conditions weren't that great," Debbie said. "Once they quit ice fishing, they quit for the winter. I think everybody's anxious for sunshine and warm weather."

And the state, which has a projected deficit of around $5 billion, welcomes the injection of money anglers bring in, estimated at $4.7 billion. Hmmm. Conspiracy theorists would say that's the same amount needed to replenish the state's fiscal tackle box.

And what are these contributors to the state's bottom line spending money on?

"Flu Flus and Kukoos," laughed Debbie Lempola, referring to crappie jigs. "But for the weekend they'll be buying leaches, minnows and crawlers."

A new artificial bait product called Gulp! is also attracting lots of attention, she said. It's been around for about a year. In the past when you opened an artificial bait, it "died" after initial use.

Gulp! has a goop solution that you can return the bait to after use, regenerating its scent. Voila! It comes back to artificial life.

According to the DNR, 1.4 million anglers will cast a line into state lakes this year. That includes 1.1 million Minnesotans, meaning one-fifth of the population's 5.2 million residents fish.

And, as confirmation that the summer travel season is underway, gas prices went up 6 cents a gallon in Park Rapids.

Welcome anglers!