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It’s easy to get hooked on fishing in the Heartland Lakes area

As soon as the ice has melted off the lakes, sunfish and crappies are great species to seek, advises the DNR.

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Shore fishing, like here on the north end of Long Lake near Park Rapids, is a great way to savor the start of the fishing season.
Enterprise file photo

Every spring, area fishing guides Jason Durham and TJ Erickson teach youngsters the joy of fishing at a free seminar.

Durham, a Nevis kindergarten teacher, has been a fishing guide for more than 30 years.

Erickson is a K-4 physical education teacher at Century Elementary School in Park Rapids. He’s been guiding for about six seasons.

Along with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), they offer valuable tips for a family to experience Minnesotans’ favorite pastime: fishing.

Where do you find fish?

In the spring, shore fishing is a wonderful way to enjoy a day at a lake without a fancy boat or equipment. As soon as the ice has melted off the lakes, sunfish and crappies are great species to seek, advises the DNR.


Black Crappie
To find midsummer panfish, local fishing guides suggest looking for isolated weed beds along any breakline or around the edge of expansive flats.
Adobe Stock

“The fish will go where there’s food,” said Erickson. “Fish will seek the warmest water in the spring and good oxygenated water.”

Durham suggests looking for shallow bays or dark bottoms because the sun penetrates and heats up the lake faster.

Erickson explained that fish like to hang around structures, so watch for rocky reefs, logs, lily pads, docks, fishing piers or weedy areas.

“Weeds provide good shade and good oxygen. Small fish hide there and that’s where bigger predator fish will be,” he said.

In summer, try fishing in the early morning or evening.

Big fish don’t live in the deepest, darkest part of the lake, Durham added, largely because there isn’t enough oxygen for them.

“Most of the time, we’re fishing in 20 feet or less of water to find these bigger fish,” he said.

Durham noted that the Park Rapids DNR has a map showing where anglers can fish from bridges or culverts.


“If you want to make it really intense,” he said, “there’s some spots where you can put in a kayak. With two people, you can float down the river and have someone pick you up.”

Both guides also emphasized the importance of being safe on the water.

“Wear a life jacket, watch where you’re casting and take swimming lessons,” said Durham. “Safety comes first.”

“The most important thing is casting where the fish are,” Durham emphasized.

Both encouraged the young fisherfolk to practice casting into a 5-gallon bucket, without a hook, in their backyards.

He also reminded kids that the size of the fish isn’t as important as the experience of fishing.

Fun fish factsThe lateral line on a fish is a network of nerves, Durham explained. It helps them feel vibrations in the water so they detect predators or prey. That’s why it’s important to stay quiet in the boat and not stomp your feet, he said.

Durham said there used to be tiger muskies in Lake Belle Taine – hence, the big statue in downtown Nevis. In the 1950s, there was a hatchery on the lake, he explained, but the fish never survived.


“There is a species that a lot of people don’t realize. It’s called the silver pike. Lake Belle Taine was the first place in the entire world that that fish was witnessed,” Durham continued. “A silver pike looks just like a standard northern pike, except it’s not green on the sides with white markings. It’s silver. Every scale is silver and outlined in gold. I call it the ‘mermaid of Minnesota.’”

It’s rare to catch a silver pike. “We catch maybe two or three a summer.”

Fishing regulation highlights

To fish in Minnesota, anglers 16 years or older are required to buy a Minnesota fishing license.

The DNR offers a variety of fishing license types to fit the needs of anglers. Some of the most popular licenses are an annual fishing license for $25, a married combination fishing license for $40, a sports license that allows angling and small game hunting for $41, and an annual license for Minnesota non-residents for $51.

Minnesota fishing regulations, including those new for 2023, and more information can be found at mndnr.gov/fishing.

During Take a Kid Fishing Weekend – June 9-11, 2023 – Minnesotans aged 16 years or older who take a child fishing don’t need a license.

Economic benefits

In Minnesota, fishing supports $4.4 billion in economic output through everything from angling-related tourism to the sales of boats and fishing gear, and fishing supports 28,000 jobs, according to the American Sportfishing Association (asafishing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Sportfishing-in-America-Economic-Report-March-2021.pdf).

Minnesota fishing facts

  • The fishing opener refers to the start of fishing for walleye, northern pike, bass, and trout in lakes on inland waters of Minnesota. 
  • Seasons for some other species, including sunfish, crappie and channel catfish, are open all year. 
  • Muskellunge season opens on Saturday, June 3.
  • Although not every kind of fish lives everywhere, 162 species of fish can be found in Minnesota waters. 
  • Walleye are the most sought-after fish in Minnesota, followed by northern pike and muskie combined, then panfish, bass, crappie and trout.
  • Minnesota has 11,842 lakes that are 10 or more acres in size, 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes. There are more than 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, including 3,800 miles of trout streams.
  • There are about 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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