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BRAD DOKKEN: A cold, windy walleye opener

Brad Dokken

This year's Minnesota Walleye Opener lived up to its reputation for cold, windy, miserable weather.

Judging by the number of anglers we saw hunkered down in outerwear made for subzero ice fishing conditions, there was plenty of misery to go around last weekend.

A couple of friends and I spent the weekend at Ballard's Resort near the mouth of the Rainy River north of Baudette, Minn. Thanks to northwest winds that flirted with 25 mph, we opted to spend opening day in the more sheltered confines of the Rainy River instead of venturing out on Lake of the Woods.

Being on the water at the crack of dawn wasn't a priority. Not even close.

Unlike the walleye openers in 2013 and 2014, when Lake of the Woods still was mostly covered with ice, the big lake had been ice-free several days by last Saturday. The river and Four-Mile Bay of Lake of the Woods were loaded with big walleyes—many that hadn't yet spawned—in 2013 and 2014, and my fishing partners and I landed numbers of fish larger than 25 inches.

This year, like last year, was a different story. Neither the river nor Four-Mile Bay held as many walleyes, and anglers weren't dipping landing nets nearly as often as they did in 2013 and 2014.

The weather obviously was a factor. Air temperatures opening weekend were more than 30 degrees colder than they had been just a few days earlier, and the snowflakes that fell on occasion served to drive home the point.

Not only were we fishing post-spawn walleyes—fish that can be temperamental under the best of conditions—we were fishing them in the teeth of a massive cold front.

Still, we managed to scratch out a decent number of walleyes.

Fishing in a friend's 17½-foot Yar-Craft, we opted for the slow approach, dropping anchor near the edge of a dropoff on the Rainy River and staying there throughout the day. The action wasn't fast by any means—we averaged about 1½ to two walleyes an hour—but by the end of the day, we had the fixings for a huge fish fry the kitchen crew at Ballard's fried up to perfection.

Bringing the fish to the resort and letting them do the cooking has become our tradition in recent years. In our minds, at least, it's the only way to go.

Sunday's weather was marginally better, but we still opted to spend our time in the river instead of venturing out on the lake for the pounding that surely would have ensued. We went back to the same spot and employed the same "wait 'em out" approach, and by the end of the day, a limit of walleyes swam in the live well.

There are worse things than fresh walleye for dinner two nights in a row.

Monday's weather was considerably better, with sunny skies and a wind that finally had subsided to manageable levels, so we decided to venture out on the lake past Lighthouse Gap north of Pine Island to see what we could find.

We found an abundance of hungry fish with a knack for stealing minnows and an uncanny ability for staying off our jigs.

For whatever reason, the bite died by late morning, and we called it a day about 4 p.m. with only five fish in the livewell. Anglers around us weren't doing much better.

From what I've heard, fishing improved with the weather as the week progressed. It wasn't the best walleye opener we've had, but it wasn't the worst, either.

Our reservations for next year are already made.

The kid's a trooper

Speaking of opener, I got a chuckle this week when Travis Dahlin of East Grand Forks sent a photo of his 5-year-old son, Hudson, toughing it out during last weekend's opener on Lake of the Woods.

Two years ago, Hudson caught a 29-inch walleye on a "Spider Man" fishing pole as a 3-year-old, and last year, he joined his dad for a walleye opener on Lake of the Woods that also lived up to its reputation for cold, windy weather.

This year served up more of the same, and as the accompanying photo shows, it takes more than some nasty weather to keep this kid off the water.

"Just thought I would send you the annual picture of my son Hudson doing what he loves best—FISHING!!!" Travis writes in an email. "2016 opener was cold and windy and did not fill our stomachs. Hudson was a trooper!"

Attaboy, Hudson!

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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