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Open water, mild temps, and hungry walleye combine for great opener

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REGIONAL— Picture perfect.

That was pretty much the consensus of this past Saturday’s opening of the walleye season. The ice had cleared just in time, the sun was out, the wind was light, and the temperatures were mild.

Oh, and the walleye were biting.

“Everyone I talked to was pretty happy,” said Rob Bryers, a Lake Vermilion fishing guide, who was out for the fun of it.

“With just about everyone catching limits of fish it could be one of the best openers in years,” concluded Jason Cooper, one of the new owners of the Gateway Store at Lake Kabetogama. By most reports, the fish were biting just about everywhere, and at every depth. Jake Schmidt, of rural Tower, found walleye in over 50 feet of water, while others were hooking nice fish in the shallow water right off their docks. Bryers said he found most of his fish about halfway in between, in about 28 feet of water.

The active bite seemed to belie the late ice-out and the water temperatures, which hovered in the mid-40s on opening day. Just last week, Crane Lake fishing guide Butch Eggen was advising anglers to give the walleye a little time before setting the hook. But when he finally got out on the water on Sunday afternoon with his fishing pal Pete Redmond, they were coming hard and fast. “They wanted it,” he said. “You definitely knew it was a bite.” His nicest fish of the afternoon was a 20-inch male walleye, which he quickly returned to the water.

Quite a few did even better, said Eggen. “My neighbor caught a 28-incher in the Crane Lake Narrows,” he said.

In the Ely area, anglers were out in force and reporting plenty of limits, with most zeroing in on current. The outflow from the Winton dam, and Silver Rapids were popular spots, although plenty of local anglers headed to Basswood, where they found plenty of success. Jigs and rainbow chubs seemed to be the ticket according to Captain Russ at Babe’s Bait and Tackle in Ely.

It was the same story on Vermilion, where jigs and lindy rigs were working well. “We were happy and everyone I talked to was also doing well,” said Bryers. “Once you found them, they seemed to be feeding pretty actively. A lot of them were nice fish, right in the 15-18-inch keeper-sized range.”

That’s right in line with the latest DNR fish survey, which found huge numbers of walleye in that same size range. Milder springs the last few years have helped walleye reproduction in many area lakes, and that seems to be paying dividends for anglers. So catch ‘em while the fishing’s hot!

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