Saturday’s fishing opener is the Big Event of the year on Minnesota’s outdoors calendar

It's another late spring, and anglers hitting many larger northern Minnesota lakes for Saturday's walleye opener will encounter ice -- at least in patches -- on their favorite fishing holes. "Last year, everything was two weeks behind normal; thi...

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It’s another late spring, and anglers hitting many larger northern Minnesota lakes for Saturday’s walleye opener will encounter ice - at least in patches - on their favorite fishing holes.

“Last year, everything was two weeks behind normal; this year, we’re probably a week behind normal,” said Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.

Large portions of Lake of the Woods remain covered with ice, Drewes said, and fishing this weekend likely will be limited to areas near the mouth of the Rainy River, including Four-Mile Bay, Lighthouse Gap and Morris Point.

On the plus side, anglers should find numbers of walleyes still concentrated in those open-water areas, setting up a scenario similar to last year, when fishing near the mouth of the Rainy River was nothing short of spectacular, Drewes said.


Open water also has been reported for several miles in front of Pine Island, a popular early season walleye spot.

“Lake of the Woods is going to have a lot of fish still in the (Rainy) river, still in Four-Mile Bay,” Drewes said. “The lake is questionable and iffy. The river and Four-Mile Bay are good bets. I expect it’s going to be a strong opener on Lake of the Woods.”

On Upper Red Lake, tributaries such as the Tamarack River and Shotley Brook will be closed from Saturday’s opener until May 16 to protect spawning walleyes, Drewes said. There will be numerous spawning-related closures throughout northern Minnesota, he said, and anglers should check the DNR website at  for the latest updates.

If the wind and weather cooperate, fishing in Upper Red beyond the mouth of the Tamarack River near Waskish, Minn., should be gangbusters, Drewes said. The ice went off Upper Red on Wednesday, the DNR said, so anglers won’t face the problem they had last year, when open water was limited to a sliver near the mouth of the Tamarack River.

“Walleye abundance is the second or third highest we’ve seen,” Drewes said. “So, we would expect Red Lake, wind permitting, to be pretty good fishing for the opener.”

Lingering ice

Generally, Drewes said, northern lakes larger than 1,000 acres still have some ice, including Cass, Leech and Bemidji.

 “I don’t think it would take much to break them up, but 41 degrees and clouds and no wind isn’t going” to do it, Drewes said. “In general, people are going to be dealing with either some persistent ice or there could be icebergs drifting around.


“Fish are going to be concentrated in inlets and outlets and spawning areas, and the water is going to be very cold.”

Rick Leonhardt of High Banks Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish near Deer River, Minn., said the big lake was about three-fourths open Wednesday.

 “You could fish,” Leonhardt said. “We were in this position four years ago. The north shore is all open.”

In northeast Minnesota, most of Lake Vermilion’s 40,000 acres remain ice-covered, and Crane Lake is open near the river mouths.

Bait supplies are looking better than last year, when ice still covered many of the small ponds where dealers trap their minnows.

Weather outlook

Sue Kaiser of Ceason’s Bait and Tackle in Crookston said they’re stocked with crappie minnows, fathead minnows for walleyes, sucker minnows and even leeches and nightcrawlers for anglers who want to go that route. Availability hasn’t been a problem, she said.

“All the lakes are open around here, and I think it will be good fishing on the lakes as well as the (Red Lake) river,” Kaiser said.


Steve Theis of Log Cabin Bait near the mouth of the Rainy River north of Baudette, Minn., said Thursday he’s well-stocked with both live and frozen emerald shiners, the “go-to” bait this time of year up there, and he expects to receive a shipment of fathead minnows today.

“So far, so good,” he said.

As with fishing any time of year, weather is the wild card, and Saturday’s forecast for northern Minnesota at this point is calling for mostly sunny with a high in the low 60s and - best of all - relatively light west-southwest winds.

Fingers crossed.

Don’t leave the raingear at home, though; there’s a chance of showers both Saturday night and Sunday with a high in the 50s

Sam Cook of Forum News Service contributed to this story.


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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