MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Half a million Minnesotans are expected to hit the lakes with their fishing poles this weekend for the Minnesota fishing opener. After a long, brutal winter, boats are fueled and hopefully the bait buckets filled.

Fishing reels in big money across the state, generating more than $15 billion each year, but there could be a snag for some anglers. There’s a shortage of live bait.

At Vados Bait in Spring Lake Park, conveniently anchored along a prime escape route, cash registers were ringing early as anglers geared up for a weekend out of town.

WCCO’s Bill Hudson talked with Jamie Vinson, who was headed for Mille Lacs, where the DNR will allow anglers to keep one walleye a day. It’s a big change from past years.

“We get to keep one fish this year. The fishing’s been great; you catch fish, but couldn’t keep them,” Vinson said. “We hope people get up there and check out the lake. It’s a beautiful lake.”

On a sun-drenched day, many were out launching boats or doing a little crappie fishing. Ron Meuwissen was making the rounds, stocking more than 150 bait stores, gas stations and resorts with bait. But a hard winter killed his ponds, so there are fewer shiners, suckers and jumbo leaches to fill buckets.

“Never thawed out all winter long, just ran out of oxygen and died. They were aerating and plowing but couldn’t get them through the winter,” Meuwissen said.

Still, there’s always plastic, although anglers can sometimes be a persnickety bunch, especially if they can’t find their desired bait.

If you are headed out this weekend, wear a life vest. The water temperature is still very cold.

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For the first time this year, the Albert Lea lakes area is hosting the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener. The kick-off celebration has been a tradition since 1948.

Albert Lea is known as “The Land Between The Lakes.” There’s 13 lakes in the area for boating, paddling and more.

Gov. Tim Walz will cast his line Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and then host a shore-side lunch for the community at 11.

Bill Hudson

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