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Cool opener produces 'hit and miss' results

ABOVE: Wayne Steffensen, left, and his son, Travis Steffensen, of Spicer return to shore Saturday after a morning of successful fishing on Norway Lake. The fishermen who braved the cold of the early morning had the most success on Norway. (Tribune photos by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- This fishing opener was not one for the amateurs.

"Average'' is how bait shop owners in the area described the activity on the lakes, with reports of success ranging from "hit and miss'' to "spotty.''

But there were fish taken, and nice ones at that, by the serious fishermen and women who know their stuff and got out early.

Sue Bentz of the Last Chance Sport and Bait shop on Norway Lake watched the red and green lights of boats trolling along the shoreline of the northern Kandiyohi County lake shortly after midnight Saturday.

"They did pretty good out there,'' said Bentz of those who were willing to fish under cover of darkness with air temperatures dropping to the upper 30s.

Bentz said the first boats of diehards who hit the water after midnight were followed by others shortly before sunup. They too returned with fish, and left behind stories that kept other anglers looking for fish.

Bentz said she spoke with one fisherman who caught and released a 29-inch walleye, and went home with 21-inch and 18-inch walleyes.

But the anglers who followed by the light of day had a much harder time finding the walleyes, Bentz said.

As is the case during most openers, the shallow lakes where the waters are quicker to warm offered the best prospects. Russ Lesniak at Yellow Stripe Sports in Olivia said he sent lots of anglers armed with minnows north to Big Kandiyohi for that reason, and some returned with stories of success.

Greg Melges of Mel's Sports Shop in Spicer said the shallow waters of West Norway produced good results too. No matter the lake, he was urging anglers to look for inlets with warmer waters and to toss spot-tail shiners to any fussy eaters they might find.

The attention to detail is important: A late spring has meant that lake water temperatures are still cold, and the fish are not as active, said Brad Foshaug at Brad's 71 Bait and Sports in Willmar.

Foshaug was among those terming this an "average'' opener for most. The cold front that slid through on Saturday only slowed the action, and the winds that arrived with it chased many boats off the water in the morning.

Jabran Mustafa at J's Bait and Sport in Willmar said the winds sent many anglers to the shorelines, but that wasn't necessarily a bad choice. There were some who found action, especially those willing to change tactics and pursue panfish, he said.

Those who beat the winds to the lakes had some stories to tell. An 8-pound walleye was the biggest that Mustafa saw this opener, but he also heard of some 5- and 6-pounders nabbed near the big island on Long Lake north of Willmar.

Steve Mitlyng placed a happy angler's 10-pound, 8-ounce walleye on the scale at Mitlyng's Bait Shop on the south end of Lac qui Parle Lake. But overall, he said it was the worst fishing opener he's seen there in 35 years. Lake water temperatures had actually dropped in the last week to only 55 degrees.

Cold waters had the predictable results of shutting things down, he said.

Mitlyng said there were some fish to be caught below the bridges on the lake, but he said right now it's all about waiting for warmer weather. He's expecting a very active bite once the waters warm up, good enough so amateurs will have a chance to catch fish too.