by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Football fans have the Viking opener. Political junkies have Election Day. Movie buffs have the Oscars. And then, for countless Minnesotans, there is the coolest day of all, the fishing opener. Which is next Saturday.
“There is nothing like the approach of the fishing opener,” said Ron Hustvedt, a social studies teacher at Salk Middle School who writes for In-Fisherman, Outdoor News, Star Tribune, Minnesota Sportsman and others.
“Getting everything ready to go for that opening morning is such an exciting process. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold and snowy or hot and sunny, the fishing opener is a Minnesota tradition that has around a million people taking to the water.”
Even friends of his up north facing the prospect of a lake socked in with ice are planning to get out.
“The fishing opener is everybody’s first chance to get back on the water,” Hustvedt said. “Just like opening day of any sporting season, we are all undefeated on that first morning.”
Breaking into the win column on the lakes this year will be harder than usual, due to winter lingering almost through April.
“I think there’ll be a lot less people going up north. In those cabins, you can’t turn on the water when the pipes will freeze,” said Joanne Ebner, proprietor of Ebner Bait on West Highway 10.
A customer Monday told her ice was still 29 inches deep on Mille Lacs the day before.
The popular area lakes like Pelican, Blue, Elk, Cedar, Sugar and Clearwater will be more likely destinations, along with the river, she figures.
“If those lakes open up in time, people will be fishing there for walleyes in the opener.”
Also this year, leeches are unavailable. This prized bait is normally trapped at White Earth Indian Reservation, but the water’s too cold for that now.
“This is the first year that I have not had any leeches,” said Ebner, whose family has run the store since 1949. “There’s been some years when they are not as plentiful, but never when there was none.”
In the days leading up to the walleye opener, she’s been getting reports of fish being caught on Orono but not as many as usual.
Mike Fleming said he will make his annual pilgrimage to Cass Lake where he’s always joined by various relatives. They always catch a bunch of walleyes and have a good fish fry in the evening.
“I think this year I will bring along my ice house and auger,” joked the Elk River investment counselor.
But he added, “If the ice is off, and it’s not storming, no blizzard, then I think the fishing will probably be pretty good.”
He expects to fish open water around the edges. The Turtle River that flows into Cass Lake will be open.
“The fish, I don’t think, have spawned yet, so they should be pretty hungry right about now,” he speculated. “But the water will be pretty cold. I doubt it’ll be above 40 degrees. The fish will be in shallow water, 6 or 7 feet.”
Fishermen tend to have positive attitudes, in part because they have fun even if the fish aren’t biting.
“The spring has been colder than average, particularly April with snow and cold,” acknowledged Hustvedt, “but it’s important to note that we are only about two weeks off the normal schedule.
“That’s a big deal, this close to ice-out, but it’s not that big of a deal. Most anglers will just need to slide a bit shallower than their usual spots to find the walleye.”
Wherever Hustvedt will wind up Saturday, it will be with family “because the opener is all about tradition.”
An ideal spot right now is the mouth of a river or creek flowing into the lake, Hustvedt said.
“Even on waterbodies where there is only a stocked population, the urge to spawn is a strong one and moving water is the draw. … If there’s open water, then get out there and fish it.
“This is the fishing opener and there’s no excuse for not being out there!”