MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — About a half a million anglers are expected to hit the water when walleye season opens Saturday in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Here’s a look at some things to expect this season in Minnesota, a state that takes its fishing seriously.
Saturday’s forecast is partly to mostly sunny skies and highs in the 60s across much of the state, with 50s in the far north, according to the National Weather Service. It could turn rainy again Sunday. At least the ice is off all the lakes. Saganaga and Gunflint lakes in northeastern Minnesota, which are usually among the last to thaw, declared ice-outs on Sunday. Some other major lakes along the northern border, including Lake of the Woods, recorded ice-outs last week.
Limits are lower than ever on Mille Lacs Lake, once the state’s premier walleye fishery, where the population is at a 40-year low. Anglers will be allowed to keep only one walleye per day, and it has to be 19 to 21 inches long, or over 28 inches. Last year, anglers could keep two walleye, which had to be 18 to 20 inches, with one over 28. This year’s night walleye ban takes effect Monday and runs to Dec. 1. The rules are also tighter on Upper Red Lake, where the limit will be two and anglers must immediately release all walleye between 17 and 26 inches. That’s a response to record catches over the winter, when anglers took 140,000 pounds of walleye.
Conservation officers will be out in force to make sure anglers stay safe, are licensed and comply with state rules. The Department of Natural Resources says the most common violation is failure to have a fishing license in possession, so don’t forget yours in your car or cabin. Not having a license at all is the No. 2 violation, followed by fishing with extra lines. Going over the possession limit or size violations also commonly result in citations.
THE GOVERNOR’S OPENER
Lake Vermilion in northeastern Minnesota is hosting the 68th annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener, headquartered at Fortune Bay Casino in Tower. Local guide Tim “Buck” Lescarbeau will try to ensure that Gov. Mark Dayton doesn’t get skunked like he did last year on Gull Lake, while Casey Sunsdahl will guide Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. Dayton could also get in some politics. He plans to share a boat with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt. Dayton will also take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday at Lake Vermilion State Park, Minnesota’s newest state park.
DNR officials say anglers can expect excellent walleye fishing on Leech Lake, Upper Red Lake, Lake of the Woods and Cass Lake in northwestern Minnesota. In the northeast, likely hotspots include the St. Louis River estuary, and the larger lakes in the Brainerd area including Gull, Pelican, Whitefish, North Long, and Round lakes. Walleye populations are also in very good shape in the traditional opener lakes in the Grand Rapids area, including Bowstring, Split Hand, Swan, Round, Winnibigoshish and Cut Foot Sioux.
Minnesota has about 1.5 million licensed anglers. They spend an annual average of about $1,500 on the sport. Fishing contributes $2.4 billion to Minnesota’s economy in direct retail sales alone, and supports over 35,000 jobs. While the tasty walleye is the official state fish, the state’s most sought-after species are crappies and other panfish. The DNR’s official lake count: 11,842.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)