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Fishing Opener: Anglers ready to fish fresh waters Saturday

Anglers fish for panfish in the week before the fishing opener on Minnesota's longest fishing pier located on Dower Lake in Staples. Michael Johnson/Focus1 / 3
The target of many Minnesota anglers is the walleye, like this fish on the wall of Gene's Sport Shop in Perham. Michael Johnson/Focus2 / 3
Paul King (left) and Troy Kapphahn ply the waters of Rush Lake Friday evening, trying out a new boat before the opener. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal3 / 3

Ice is gone, docks are rolling out—hope has been restored for those looking to fish open water in the 2018 Minnesota fishing opener starting at midnight Saturday.

In a dramatic turn of weather, snow and ice disappeared from the region in the last couple weeks creating what looks to be a great chance for anglers to hit open water.

Of course the season never ended for panfish, but because of the late winter many anglers have left area lakes alone for months. Walleye and northern have been off the menu. That's good news according to local guide Sam Long, an Otter Tail Lake resident.

"The biggest thing I think is that the lakes have all been left alone," Long said. "I'm thinking it's going to be a phenomenal opener."

Long said he's heard the walleye have been spawning and should be done with that but still hanging out very shallow come opening day. He said water temperatures should be normal for spring fishing too. He expects to see big crowds coming out.

"Everybody is going to be apt to get out," he said. "It's going to be a busy opener."

Long suggests shallow rip jigging (quick jerks of the rod, ripping the jig up from structure a few feet at a time) and using Lindy rigs on shorelines and inlets and outlets.

"I feel like Rush is going to be the hit of the spring right now," Long said of area lakes to try. "Through the winter we were catching a good amount of walleye."

And to catch those walleye, most people will be rigging up with live bait. A favorite for the opener is the walleye's main food source, the spot-tail shiner, according to Josh Nordick of Gene's Sport Shop in Perham. He expects they will have the highly sought bait in time for the opener thanks to a welcomed warm up in Minnesota. 10-to-1, that is the top bait for those chasing walleyes, he said.

And like Long, he echoes the thoughts that this will be a great opener.

"Everyone is pretty shocked at how fast the ice went out," Nordick said. "It looks like it's shaping up to be a, I don't want to say a normal opener, but a pretty nice opener."

"If the weather stays nice, fishing and our bait should be ready to go," he added.

While hopes were a little low just a couple weeks ago, license sales were doing well in the bait shop last week. The added traffic into the region is a welcome addition to help start off tourism season on a good note.

Minnesota DNR parks and trails employees are busily preparing boat ramps to be prepared for the rush of traffic. The late winter made for a slow start to that process. Perham Area conservation officer Chris Vinton said crews were working hard to have all area ramps ready by opener but noted that some were requiring extra work to get ready.


Regulation changes

The major change to keep in mind for this opener is the change to the northern pike limits with the three zones in the state going into effect.

"Anyone who wants to keep pike in Minnesota's inland waters needs to take a close look at these regulations and be prepared to measure the pike they want to keep starting on the Saturday, May 12, fishing opener," said Al Stevens, fisheries program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The new fishing regulations have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota. While not designed to manage for trophy pike, the new regulations are meant to restore pike populations for better harvest opportunities across the state for sizes that make good table fare, up to around 28 inches or so.

The new pike harvest regulations apply to inland waters of the state.

• North-central: Limit of 10 northern pike, but not more than two pike longer than 26 inches; all from 22 to 26 inches must be released.

• Northeast: Two pike; anglers must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession.

• South: Two fish; minimum size 24 inches.

Those fishing in and around this region including anything north of the metro area or west of the Arrowhead, are fishing in the north-central zone. Perham Area conservation officer Chris Vinton said that change is good news for those looking to catch bigger pike and good news for people who like to pickle northern pike. With a limit of 10 small pike, picklers can now get a full batch of pike to pickle without going over the limit.

"Most of these lakes have a good number of these smaller pike," Vinton said. "It will really benefit the Big Pine and Otter Tail lakes," Vinton said noting that those lakes already have larger pike and those pike can grow even better with fewer "snakes" to get in their way.

Vinton reminds anglers to come prepared Saturday with a license for themselves and their boat. Make sure safety equipment including life jackets are on board for all on board. Check that fuel systems are working properly and know the fishing regulations.

He noted that a life jacket costs less than a ticket. And the life it can save is worth every penny.