By Matt Erickson
Forum News Service
BRAINERD - After waiting out what seemed to be a never-ending winter, open-water walleye and northern pike fishing is back.
Unlike last year, the threat of ice on lakes won’t be a problem in central Minnesota. Aside from some reports of floating ice, Brainerd-area lakes appear to be wide open heading into Saturday’s fishing opener.
“It’s looking very good,” said Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait on Highway 371 North.
Like last year, however, the cold and extended winter could make catching walleye difficult.
Wicktor noted that Gull Lake, site of the Governor’s Fishing Opener, is still behind the traditional start of the walleye bite.
“They will probably be shallow as usual, but it’s still very cold,” Wicktor said. “The weather has been changing so much, it’s been up and down the last two weeks.”
In the Crosby area, a few walleye and northern pike are still lingering in creeks, said Jesse Williams, store manager at Oars ‘n Mine Bait and Tackle in Crosby.
Kurt King, owner of Tutt’s Bait & Tackle in Garrison, also said walleye are still spawning in creeks. He predicts a lot of shallow trolling on Mille Lacs Lake for the opener in addition to the traditional bobber fishing.
“Fish will be tight to shore,” King said.
But on a positive note, Williams said people are starting to catch crappies from shore and, with ice-out earlier than last year, trout stocking on area mine pit lakes is almost complete.
“It’s looking pretty good. We are a week or two ahead of where we were last year, as far as fishing conditions,” Williams said. “We should have really good trout fishing this weekend.”
While business is expected to be a lot better than last year, Wicktor said a concern is whether her shop will have enough bait. Severe winter kill the past two years has been the culprit, Wicktor said.
“We’re scraping for everything,” Wicktor said. “Probably the biggest problem to have on the opener is having no bait.”
Williams said he is expecting his first shipment of bait soon, and from what he’s hearing, there should be a good supply except for shiner minnows.
“Bait is always the big question, but I am sure we’ll have some this weekend,” he said. “We’re just not sure how much there will be.”
Like Wicktor and Williams, King said the hardest bait to get will be shiner minnows. He said other bait, including leeches, will be on hand for the opener.
Most important, King said, is there’s an option for open water fishing this year for the opener on Mille Lacs Lake.
“No doubt business will be a thousand times better than last year. Last year, we had no business because there was still ice on the lake,” King said.
Williams said traffic was already picking up Thursday as people geared up for the opener.
If nothing else, the weather forecast, with a high temperature of 63 degrees and a slight chance of rain, is an upgrade from last year, Wicktor said.
“Last year on the opener it was miserable, cold weather and it was raining,” Wicktor said. “Hopefully this year everyone can get out on the water and enjoy a beautiful day. Traditionally, the weather on the fishing opener is miserable anyway, so bring long underwear and your winter coats. I think the fishing will be difficult, no where near as bad as last year.”