All systems go for Minnesota fishing opener

If there's a common theme going into Saturday's Minnesota walleye opener, it's this: Water levels are low basically everywhere in the state, and that could make launching boats--especially bigger boats--a challenge in some areas. "Our water level...

1708701+050815.N.GFH_.FISHOPENER-2015 Walleye stamp.jpg
A painting of two walleyes by artist Stephen Hamrick is featured on the 2015 Minnesota Walleye Stamp. The stamp is not required to fish walleyes in Minnesota but proceeds from sales of the optional stamps supplement walleye management in the state. Minnesota's walleye and northern pike season opens Saturday. (Minnesota DNR)

If there's a common theme going into Saturday's Minnesota walleye opener, it's this:

Water levels are low basically everywhere in the state, and that could make launching boats-especially bigger boats-a challenge in some areas.

"Our water levels are low, I'll tell you that," said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. "They're really low."

Henry said the Rainy River north of Baudette, where many of the area's resorts are located, has plenty of water for launching, but the docks are far out of the water.

That's a big change from last year, when widespread flooding along the Rainy River, Lake of the Woods and other Minnesota-Ontario border waters inundated many docks and boat launches for much of the summer.


"If people are going to be fishing upper stretches of the Rainy River, they'll want to be more cognizant of rocks and things like that and make sure to watch their navigation," Henry said. "People are telling me they're seeing huge boulders they didn't know were there. I talked to one person who's lived up here 20 years, and he said he's never seen the water this low."

Low water also is an issue on the west side of the lake. Helen Brunette of Warroad Estates Marina near Warroad said there's about 3½ feet of water in the harbor, and boats larger than 20 feet or 21 feet in length could have problems reaching the lake, especially if they don't have motors with tilt and trim that can be raised.

"You can get in and out with smaller boats, but not the really big ones," she said.

No ice this year

On the upside, Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism said the big lake has been ice-free for the past week. That's also a big change from the past two years, when Lake of the Woods was still mostly ice-covered on opening day.

Henry said Lake of the Woods Tourism hosted a meeting Wednesday with resort owners, guides, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources personnel and other stakeholders. Despite the low water, he said there's plenty of optimism going into opening day.

Henry said he's still hearing reports of sturgeon anglers catching post-spawn walleyes incidentally in the Rainy River, so the river, Four-Mile Bay at the mouth of the river and shallow stretches of Lake of the Woods all along the south shore should hold walleyes.

"We're excited for it," he said. "The resorts are ready to roll. I think it's going to be a great opener. If you drag around a jig and a minnow opening day, most likely you're going to catch fish."


The DNR offered a similar assessment in its statewide preview. Walleyes and pike have spawned, and all of the state's lakes are ice-free.

The caveat, the DNR cautioned, is low water.

Green light on Red

Northwest Minnesota's other large walleye factory, Upper Red Lake, also is low for this time of year, but the boat ramps are open and channels dredged so boaters shouldn't have any problem reaching the lake, said Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides in Waskish.

Walleyes have spawned, and the water temperature already is 62 degrees, Brasel said. Upper Red still had ice the past two years.

Because of the low water, Brasel said the Tamarack River, which flows into Upper Red at Waskish, likely won't hold as many walleyes as it does on a typical opener, but he expects the fish on the lake to be in 2 feet to 6 feet of water, just as they are most years.

Based on several spring trips for crappies-which are in season year-round in Minnesota-Brasel said anglers shouldn't have any trouble catching walleyes.

"I'm running (bobbers) 2 feet down over 5 to 6 feet of water, and you can't keep the walleyes off your line," Brasel said. "Come opening day, when you throw an eighth-ounce jig and a minnow, it's going to be every cast."


The DNR implemented a two-walleye limit and a protected slot that requires anglers to release all walleyes from 17 inches to 26 inches on Upper Red in an effort to keep the harvest within quotas set as part of an agreement with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. That could cut down on opening day traffic, Brasel predicts, but the anglers who come will encounter a walleye population that's at record highs, based on DNR fisheries surveys.

"Everything looks to be good," Brasel said. "The typical jig and minnow is going to be hard to beat. Your bobber setups will catch pretty much anything in the lake."

Cool and sunny

Weather, as always, will be the wildcard for opening day anglers.

The National Weather Service as of Thursday was calling for mostly sunny and a high of 52 degrees Saturday in Baudette with north winds at 7 to 10 mph. Waskish, about 40 miles south of Baudette, is on tap for partly sunny, a high of 55 and north winds at 3 to 7 mph.

A bit cool, perhaps, but few of the 500,000 or so anglers expected to hit the water for opening day would complain if that forecast comes to pass. As Minnesota outdoors "happenings" go, the walleye opener is without rival.

"This is the Minnesota fishing opener," Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism said. "This is the kickoff of a really exciting season."

Top fishing violations


Here's a list of the top 10 fishing violations last year in Minnesota, as reported by the Department of Natural Resources:

1. Fishing license not in possession (194 citations, 2,443 warnings).

2. No license (742 citations, 397 warnings).

3. Extra lines (634 citations, 144 warnings).

4. Improperly/not marked fish house (300 citations, 47 warnings).

5. Over possession limit (262 citations, 47 warnings).

6. Length or slot limit violation (139 citations, 71 warnings).

7. Unattended/set lines (122 citations, 69 warnings).


8. Closed season (67 citations, 33 warnings).

9. No reflective material on fish house (9 citations, 90 warnings).

10. Fish house left on the ice after removal deadline (58 citations, 22 warnings).

-- Minnesota DNR

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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