MINNESOTA WALLEYE OPENER: Throngs of fishermen gear up for gold

This year's Minnesota walleye opener is one of the latest on record, and when anglers can legally hit the water beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, they'll likely find the walleyes in different places than they have the past couple of openers.

Brian "Bro" Brosdahl
Northwoods fishing guide Brian "Bro" Brosdahl said he expects this year's walleye opener to serve up more big fish than typical openers, thanks to the combination of an early spring and a later-than-usual opening date. (Brian "Bro" Brosdahl Promotions)

This year's Minnesota walleye opener is one of the latest on record, and when anglers can legally hit the water beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, they'll likely find the walleyes in different places than they have the past couple of openers.

Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, said this year's early spring means walleyes are done spawning everywhere except perhaps some of the border-waters lakes.

The ice on Lake of the Woods already has been out nearly a month, where anglers two years ago dodged icebergs opening weekend.

"I remember Red Lake a couple of years ago, and it was snowing and the water temperature was 38 degrees" on opening day, Drewes said.

Snow shouldn't be an issue anywhere in northern Minnesota this year. According to the National Weather Service, Saturday's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies in the Bemidji area and a high near 68, with more of the same in store Sunday.


Walleyes typically spawn when water temperatures hit the 45-degree range. Drewes said DNR fisheries crews finished collecting walleye eggs for stocking about two weeks ago.

Even after the recent cold snap, most of the smaller lakes across northern Minnesota are still in the low 50-degree range, Drewes said. That means larger female walleyes should be recovered from the rigors of spawning and eager to take the bait.

Throw in the late opening date, and you've got the combination for fishing conditions that could be more like early June than mid-May. That means anglers who typically focus on the mouths of small rivers where spawning walleyes congregate should consider fishing different locations, including points, weed lines and rocky structure.

"We're going to see people catching fish in more diverse areas than we typically do," Drewes said. "I think anglers will adapt and spread out more; the fish won't be as congregated.

"It's the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the last couple of years."

This year's late opener results from a quirk of the calendar that puts Memorial Day weekend at one of its latest possible dates. By state law, Drewes said, the Minnesota walleye opener is two weeks before the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

This year, that's May 29, which put the opener on May 15, a full week later than last year's opener.

As outdoors "happenings" go, few events can top the Minnesota walleye opener. Unofficial estimates suggest as many as a half-million people could hit the lakes and rivers this weekend. But weather, as always, is the wildcard, and the recent spate of cold, wet weather might dampen the enthusiasm a bit if it lingers into this weekend.


"The weather (today), Friday and Saturday will dictate how people feel," Drewes said. "I think there's good reason for optimism; the cold weather and lack of sunshine has maybe dampened the spirits a bit."

But if the weather cooperates -- always a long shot, it seems, on opening day -- look out.

"Typically, the best walleye fishing is that week going up toward Memorial Day two weeks after the opener," Drewes said. "And we may be on the cusp of that depending on what happens with the weather."

Seeing gold

The potential for that kind of fishing has had some walleye anglers champing at the bit for a couple of weeks already. Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, a Northwoods guide who frequents lakes in the Bemidji and Grand Rapids, Minn., areas, admits his expectations are high.

Already, Brosdahl said, he's encountered aggressive walleyes that are more than willing to snap while fishing for perch and panfish in area lakes.

"We're going to see more big fish caught," Brosdahl said. "The bigger females are recuperated, and I think we're going to see an exceptional opener as far as big fish and not as many males, which make up the bulk of the stringers caught on the opener.

"Opener is going to be like the end of May."


Even Lake of the Woods, where anglers the past couple of openers encountered phenomenal fishing by dropping anchor in Four-Mile Bay near the mouth of the Rainy River, likely will have to change their strategies a bit this year, prognosticators say.

Instead of staging near the mouth of the river like they did last year and 2008, many of the walleyes this year likely will have migrated back into Lake of the Woods. Last year, some of the walleyes hadn't even spawned on opening day, which made the river fishing especially productive.

"I really doubt we'll be doing much river and bay fishing," said Gregg Hennum, owner of Sportsman's Lodge north of Baudette, Minn. "The fish got going earlier, the spawn was earlier and we might be doing our typical first two weeks of June fishing, drifting sandbars with spinners. It's just goofy."

Governor on Kab
The DNR's Drewes said all of northern Minnesota's large walleye lakes -- Lake of the Woods, Upper Red, Leech and Winnibigoshish among them -- are poised to serve up more good fishing again this year.

"I expect we'll have very good fishing on Red Lake again -- maybe not so much in the Tamarack River, but along the drop-off" past the mouth, Drewes said. "Leech is going to be dynamite."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau this year will be testing the waters of Lake Kabetogama, the gateway to Voyageurs National Park. It's not part of his work area, but Drewes said Kab this year should offer good opening-day action, too, if Mother Nature cooperates.

As for Drewes, he's planning to chart a course that likely will be similar to tens of thousands of other anglers in Minnesota this weekend.

"I don't know what I'll do exactly yet," Drewes said. "I'll probably see what the weather is."


Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to .

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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