Hundreds of anglers mark Minnesota walleye opener on Lake of the Woods — where open water allowed
BAUDETTE, Minn. — Of all the excuses anglers could make for not catching fish Saturday on the opening day of Minnesota’s walleye season, weather wasn’t one of them.
For those who fish, days like Saturday are the reward for putting up with winters like the one that just ended. Wind and rain and cold typically accompany the Minnesota walleye opener, but Saturday was a complete opposite.
Sunny skies, light winds and a temperature in the low 60s made for surprisingly pleasant fishing conditions. It almost didn’t feel right.
The hundreds of anglers gathered in Four-Mile Bay, where the Rainy River meets Lake of the Woods north of Baudette, didn’t have to look far, though, to see that Mother Nature calls the shots. A stiff northwest wind the previous day had blown the ice that still covers most of Lake of the Woods back in front of Pine Island, blocking access to a popular early season walleye spot that had been wide open earlier in the week.
No one was complaining, though, especially fishing partners Jason Laumb, Grand Forks, and Bob Glassmann, Roseau, Minn.
Last year, the three of us toughed out a cold, windy opening day to be rewarded with some of the best walleye fishing we’d ever experienced during Minnesota’s biggest outdoors event. The lake was still covered with ice last year, too, and Four-Mile Bay and Rainy River were stacked with walleyes.
This year promised to serve up a similar story.
There were too many boats anchored in Four-Mile Bay to count Saturday morning, but 300 wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
Getting skunked wouldn’t be a problem either.
Fishing in Laumb’s 17-foot Yar-Craft, we’d been anchored maybe 45 minutes when the first walleye of the day hit the chartreuse jig tipped with a frozen shiner minnow Laumb bounced off the bottom some 8 feet below. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources requires all walleyes from 19.5 inches to 28 inches on Lake of the Woods to be released, and Laumb’s 22-inch fish was quickly sent on his way.
He’d follow up with a 28-incher later in the morning.
Some of us, who shall be nameless, had our share of bites that didn’t translate into fish on the line. Blame the rust that comes from too many months of fishing through holes in the ice.
“We’re not miserable enough,” Glassmann lamented.
The fish gods must have been listening, because he regained his form with a 26-inch walleye — probably a 7-pound fish this time of year — a short time later.
Hoping to escape the crowds and perhaps find some faster fishing, several boats ventured across Four-Mile Bay and through Lighthouse Gap to the icepack that loomed for miles on the northern horizon beyond Pine Island.
Spring might be here, but winter still lingers on Lake of the Woods.
According to DNR conservation officers, most of the anglers in Four-Mile Bay on Saturday morning were averaging about two “keepers” per boat along with larger walleyes that had to be released. That matched what we encountered, as well.
Upper Red Lake, where the ice went off Wednesday, was just as busy as Lake of the Woods. Pat Znajda, district DNR enforcement supervisor for northwest Minnesota, estimated 300 boats were on the water, and most were catching fish.
Too many, in some cases; Znajda said the first boat he checked Saturday morning on Upper Red was cited for being over the limit. But for the most part, he said, anglers were playing by the rules and enjoying what was probably the nicest day of the spring so far.
“It’s pretty much a perfect day,” Znajda said.
And so it went on the opening day of fishing season in northern Minnesota, a year when ice dominated the horizon on many lakes.
The brats we’d brought in case the walleyes didn’t cooperate will stay in the cooler another day.