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Taking advantage of this spring's rare sunshine, a couple of anglers tried their luck earlier this week on the waters of Nest Lake. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

West central Minnesota fishing opener ... ... bigger than return of Brett Favre?

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outdoors Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The spring of 2010 came very early, and anglers were looking forward to the walleye and northern pike opener with expectations for success matching those of Minnesota Viking fans awaiting the return of Brett Favre.

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And for many anglers, the opening day results were comparable to the Viking's season.

This year's late spring seems to have dampened expectations for the 2011 fishing opener, but it shouldn't. Most area lakes are holding above average populations of walleye, and the spawn was completed right on schedule. The walleye should be rested and back in the feeding mode come midnight on May 14, when the new season begins.

And hey, the temperatures can only go up in the week ahead, right?

Well, maybe.

"It's going to be definitely a shallow water bite,'' said Brad Foshaug from Brad's '71 Bait and Sport in Willmar. Foshaug is not betting on greatly improved weather to warm things up in the week ahead, but he can be counted among those optimistic about the opening weekend's prospects.

His hunch is that Ringo might prove to be this area's hot lake come opening day, but he has no qualms about dunking minnows in any of the area's shallow waters. Big Kandiyohi, Elizabeth, Willmar and Foot, and Solomon are among those he named right off the cuff.

Given a chance to ponder the matter, he also suggested Diamond and Eagle as worth a try.

For those willing to work the deep water, there is no place like Green.

But be forewarned: "I haven't got a clue,'' said Greg Melges from Mel's Sports Shop in Spicer, when asked his predictions for the opener on his favorite lake.

"Seriously,'' he quickly added: "We'll know better next week. We need some warmth.''

If we enjoy the warm-up everyone so desperately wants, Melges said the walleye in Green Lake should be prowling the shallow waters, and make for a great fishing opener.

If the weather stays cool, head to the inlet at the Old Mill. The warmer, moving waters there are sure to attract hungry walleye, he noted.

And don't be afraid to take advantage of the lake's elbow room. The lake has lots of structure and the fish are well distributed in its waters, he noted.

Actually, the walleye are pretty well distributed among all the lakes in Kandiyohi County this year. Gill net surveys in the last few years have shown above average counts in just about all of the county's walleye waters, according to Dave Coahran, acting fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer.

Foshaug's hunch about Ringo is on the money. It has a very good population of walleye, based on the surveys.

Along with the popular shallow lakes, Coahran suggests Andrew, Eagle and Diamond as well worth the effort. They do not necessarily have gangbuster numbers right now, but the gill net catch in recent years held many walleyes that should be at that perfect eating size this year.

In addition, gill net surveys in recent years found above average numbers of walleye in Norway, Long Lake north of Willmar, Solomon and Ringo. These are among the shallow lakes in the northern half of the county that Troy Haverly from Pete's Surplus anticipates will see lots of anglers.

Norway Lake has the makings for a very good opener, where aggressive stocking has helped boost the walleye population. There was a very strong walleye bite at the start of last year's ice fishing season on the lake, noted Sue Bentz from Last Chance Bait Shop on Norway Lake.

To the west, aggressive stocking efforts in Lac qui Parle Lake offer the promise of a much-improved opener there as well, according to Jon Dahlvang from D.J.'s Sporting Goods in Montevideo.

He said high water on the Minnesota River will make the fishing there tough, but some backwaters and the inlets of creeks could be productive.

The cold spring has made it more difficult to harvest leeches and shiners this year, but bait shop owners in the area are optimistic about having good supplies on hand.

As in past years, most are recommending shiners as the bait of choice for opening day.

And what if the walleye just aren't biting? The northern pike should be, and there's a very good chance the crappies will be in the shallows for their spring run.

Melges said he's not worried either way. He plans to spend a relaxing evening on Saturday at the end of his dock on Green Lake with pole in hand. If the fish aren't in the shallows, there's always tomorrow to try again.

"That's why they call it 'fishing' and not catching,'' he said.

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