REGIONAL— While so much about life in Minnesota has changed in recent weeks, the state’s most cherished tradition is still set to get underway, as usual, this Saturday— and anglers …
REGIONAL— While so much about life in Minnesota has changed in recent weeks, the state’s most cherished tradition is still set to get underway, as usual, this Saturday— and anglers should find the fish waiting in their usual early season haunts.
“I think it’s going to be a good opener, that’s for sure,” said Lake Vermilion-area fishing guide Rob Bryers. That’s despite the fact that Bryers, like every other fishing guide in the state, won’t be in business mode for opener since guiding fishing is among the activities currently prohibited by Gov. Tim Walz’s Stay-At-Home order intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Bryers said his business has taken an early season hit as a result of the pandemic, but he’s not going to let that stop him from getting out for opener. Like many local guides, he won’t spend much time in the shallower waters of Pike Bay. He’ll be searching for walleye in the deeper waters, working sandy bottoms in 25-30 feet of water.
Vermilion guide Dave Schaeffer said he’ll be in the deeper water as well. “On Vermilion, there will always be a lot of walleye in 30-35 feet with a mud bottom this time of year,” he said.
Even so, Schaeffer expects there will still be plenty of fish in shallower waters given the cool water temperatures. “I know there will still be a lot of fish in Pike Bay,” he said, where he predicts anglers will do well trolling crankbaits, like rapalas, or working the usual jig and minnow or lindy rig.
That’s always the best bet this time of year, says Rob Nelson, of the Ely Fishing Guide Company. Nelson will be fishing with family on opener, and says he’ll be using rainbows or shiners on his jigs or lindy rig— and looking for current. “The warmest water temp I’ve heard of is 51 degrees, and most places are still in the 40s, so they’ll be in the current,” predicts Nelson, who will be focusing his attention on the White Iron chain of lakes.
Some of his guides also traditionally take clients into Basswood on opener, but the current ban on guided fishing as well as overnight travel in the Boundary Waters have nixed those plans for now. Despite those bans, and the uncertainty of the season ahead, Nelson remains optimistic.
“I think there will be a lot of people out there and it will be a good opener,” he said.
If there’s a question mark for this year, it could come from the somewhat lower-than-average walleye numbers on Vermilion right now. While the numbers are still excellent compared to most Minnesota lakes, Vermilion has had such strong walleye numbers for so many years, that the dip in test net results the past two years has some anglers concerned.
Bryers said people will need to adjust their expectations this year, particularly in Vermilion’s eastern basin, where the dip in walleye numbers has been most pronounced, mostly as a result of a disappointing 2017 year-class which would normally be coming into prime time for anglers. A stronger 2018 year-class should improve the numbers of “eater-sized” walleyes by later this summer as those smaller 2018 fish fill out over the next several months.