REGIONAL— It could have passed for an average fishing opener on Lake Vermilion this year, despite the travel restrictions and closures put in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in …
REGIONAL— It could have passed for an average fishing opener on Lake Vermilion this year, despite the travel restrictions and closures put in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Minnesota. Public boat landings were full to overflowing. Local bait sales were close to average. And chilly water temperatures made for a sluggish bite.
“I’ll bet we missed 200 fish,” said Cliff Wagenbach, of Tower. Wagenbach, a longtime Lake Vermilion guide, fished with family both Saturday and Sunday, working depths of 21-26 feet in Big Bay. They caught limits both days, using jigs and minnows, but had to work for them as water temperatures in the mid-40s kept the walleye moving slowly.
Traffic, at least on Vermilion, seemed typical compared with previous years. The Hoodoo Point public launch parking lot was full, with fairly typical overflow and trucks and trailers parking along the roadside. While bait sales on Saturday and Sunday were slower than average at Vermilion Fuel and Food, owner Terry Wagoner said early bait sales, beginning about Wednesday, made up for it. Wagoner said he suspects last year’s bait shortage may have prompted many anglers to buy their rainbows and shiners well in advance.
Out in the deeper water, Wagenbach’s group pulled in plenty of smaller fish, which they tossed back. Still, they filled stringers with plenty of fish in the 13-14-inch range, said Wagenbach, and at least one 19-1/2-inch walleye that fell just short of the protected 20-26-inch slot.
While the deeper water held some potential, Wagenbach said most reports he’s heard suggest the bite was generally poor in the dark, shallow waters of Pike Bay, where anglers typically gather for opener. This year was no exception, although few of those who filled the Pike Bay narrows or the mouth of the Pike River seemed to be reeling in fish.
“Most of the guys I talked to said it was a bust in Pike Bay,” said Wagenbach.
Wagoner, who was among those trying his luck in Pike Bay on Saturday, said he picked up two first thing, around 6:30 a.m., before the bite shut off for the rest of the morning. Wagenbach said he expects the bite to pick up later in the month once the water temperatures warm a bit.
If the opener was fairly typical on Vermilion, traffic on many other area lakes appeared less than usual. This reporter spent nearly an hour in Eagles Nest Township looking for anglers on Armstrong or the Eagles Nest lakes, without spotting a single boat on the water. Wagoner said he stopped by Echo Lake, north of Buyck, on Sunday, and found the boat launch parking lot empty.
In the Ely area, usual numbers of anglers gathered in some of the typical places, like Silver Rapids, but many other lakes saw limited traffic. Ely area conservation officers reported less than stellar results as well. “Angling success was overall poor, which was made worse by cold weather conditions,” noted CO Sean Williams. Ely CO John Velsvaag reported similar results, although he noted that some anglers did very well in certain spots.
Babbitt CO Anthony Bermel reported that while fishing was generally slow, he was busy addressing a laundry list of violations, including fishing with an extra line, fishing without a license, fishing without a trout stamp, using live minnows in a designated trout lake, taking fish in a closed season, expired boat registration, and failure to have life vests on board.