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Published May 13, 2010, 09:49 AM

Outlook good for late opener

Mike Berg was almost beside himself at midweek. On his way to check his minnow traps, he passed some shallow bays on Sea Gull Lake near the tip of the Gunflint Trail.

By: Sam Cook, Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle

Mike Berg was almost beside himself at midweek. On his way to check his minnow traps, he passed some shallow bays on Sea Gull Lake near the tip of the Gunflint Trail.

“I know the walleyes are in there,” said Berg, a long-time Gunflint Trail guide. “I can feel it.”

He wanted badly to be fishing because he knew the walleyes would be ready. But he has to wait until Saturday when Minnesota’s 2010 fishing season opens.

Most Minnesota fishing openers come smack on the heels of ice-out. Resorts barely have time to open cabins and ready docks.

Not this year.

After record or near-record early ice-out dates, April languished all warm and balmy. The walleyes have long since spawned and should be well past their post-spawn funk.

“They should be ready to put on the feed bag,” said Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake.

“Every year on opener, you talk about fishing slow, slow, slow,” Berg said. “This year, the fish are going to be snapping. I think everything will turn into normal June fishing right away.”

“Fish should be well-recovered from the spawn, and fishing should be fantastic — unless we get a bunch of snow,” said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom’s Bait & Tackle on Rice Lake Road in Duluth.

Ah, always a realist.

“I think it’s going to be pretty shallow fishing,” Chalstrom said. “They should be nosed into 3, 4 feet of water and feeding …

“I’d fish with a chub minnow on either a jig or maybe a slip-bobber. Water will still be kind of cold. I wouldn’t do anything real fast.”

Scott VanValkenburg of Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake will fish most of his usual spring haunts, he said, and that means spots with incoming current.

“I think it’s going to be a great opener,” VanValkenburg said. “We’re going to be doing more aggressive fishing, not just dragging a minnow with a sinker. I think a guy could be more aggressive, maybe some spinners and bigger baits.”

He said he’s spoken with anglers fishing for crappies on Island Lake who found walleyes half a mile from current in 12 feet of water.

Fishing guide Cliff Wagenbach of Tower will fish the way he always does, in 26 to 36 feet of water on Lake Vermilion. Yes, the season is advanced, he said. But walleyes remain in their early patterns for about three weeks, and he expects them to be near the end of that pattern.

“I was out scouting (with a fish finder) the other day, and I found fish in about half the usual places,” Wagenbach said. “I’ll start with the same method I always start with — a jig and minnow or a Lindy rig and minnow. You might be getting some fish on leeches.”

Anglers trolling bays with Rapalas should also find fish, he predicted.

“I’m assuming a good portion of your fish will be fairly shallow — 4 to 10 feet,” Wagenbach said. “I hardly ever fish shallow. The fish I’ve been seeing are at 26 to 30 feet.”

Water level is down about 21 inches on Lake Vermilion, but boat accesses are in good shape and launching should be no problem, he said.

“I think it will be very good because of the early ice break-up,” said 40-year guide John Gushulak of Rainy Lake. “It’ll be jig and minnow. I’m sure that’s what they’ll want.”

Water level is down about a foot and a half, said fishing guide Barry Woods.

“That’s less water for the fish to hide in,” he quipped.

But he looks for an excellent opener.

“We’ll probe using June tactics,” Woods said. “Weeds are starting to grow. Normally this time of year, we start off shallow, throwing a few jigs, then move deeper. This year, I’ll stay in shallow. The fish will be more active. Presentations won’t have to be so slow. We’ll be able to pull Rapalas. Everything that will work in June will work on the opener.”

“You’re going to be finding fish coming off the spawn and starting to feed right now,” said guide Mike Berg of Seagull Creek Fishing Camp on the Gunflint Trail. “They should be very aggressive.”

Anglers can use a variety of techniques – and live baits – Berg said.

“It won’t be such a minnow bite,” he said. “Leeches are going to work. ’Crawlers are going to work right from the get-go.”

Fish may be more dispersed than concentrated in post-spawning areas, he said. He’ll use jigs and Lindy-rigs. Anglers will find fish shallow (3 to 6 feet) and deeper (7 to 12 feet), he said. But even in deeper water, walleyes should be biting.

Fishing guide Tim Watson will serve as host for Gov. Tim Pawlenty for the Governor’s Fishing Opener on Kabetogama Lake.

“I’m guessing it’ll be a shallow-water bite with the early ice-out,” Watson said. “The baitfish should have moved into the shallow water. We’ll be pitching little jigs or using some Lindy rigs and possibly even some crankbaits if the water is warm enough.”

Here are some other forecasts for the region from the DNR:

Finland area

Anglers on Silver Lake should see some walleye action along with several other species. This lake has a good back-in access, but the lake could be hard on lower units with many boulders just under the surface of the water. Alton Lake in the BWCAW also offers good walleye fishing with an average size of 13.4 inches, and some fish up to 30 inches. MicMac Lake in Tettegouche State Park (walk-in access only) has an excellent northern pike population. Rental canoes are available. Crosscut is a stocked brook trout lake with good numbers of average-sized fish. The carry-in access is steep.

Lake Superior area

In mid-May, Lake Superior fishing is just getting started. Lake trout can be found near shore in 30 to 100 feet of water, usually near the bottom. Chinook and Coho salmon are normally within one-quarter to one-half mile from shore in the upper 30 feet of water, looking for temperature breaks. Most salmon this time of year are in the Duluth area from Knife River to Park Point. Few walleye will be found in Lake Superior during the opening weekend, as most are still the St. Louis River. In most years, there will still be steelhead and Kamloops in or near the mouths of North Shore streams. Most will have completed their spawning run and may be ready to bite.

Breaking down the fishing opener

When: 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

What: Fishing opens for walleyes, northern pike, lake trout. Bass fishing opens north and east of U.S. Highway 53 from Duluth to International Falls.

Licenses: Required for anglers 16 and older. May be purchased at most bait and tackle shops. Cost is $17 for an individual license; $11 for a conservation license (reduced limits); $25 for a husband/wife combination angling license; $10 for a trout stamp (required for anglers 16 to 64 fishing for trout and salmon).

Boat ramps: With low water levels on many lakes, access may be difficult. Taking chest waders may make launching easier.

Walleye stamp: The $5 stamp is voluntary. It raises money for walleye stocking and related activities.

New on the St. Louis River: Because of concerns about the fish virus VHS, anglers must drain river water from minnow buckets upon leaving the river. Take along a gallon of fresh water from home so you can replace the river water.

Limits: Generally, six walleyes (no more than one over 20 inches in possession); three northern pike (no more than one over 30 inches in possession); two lake trout; six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination. Many lakes have specific regulations; check handbook.

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