REGIONAL— An early ice-out across the North Country combined with one of the latest fishing openers in years, should please anglers when they hit the area lakes beginning early Saturday. …
REGIONAL— An early ice-out across the North Country combined with one of the latest fishing openers in years, should please anglers when they hit the area lakes beginning early Saturday.
“I think it could be like Memorial Day fishing,” said Rob Nelson, a longtime guide on Ely area lakes.
Several days of warmer temperatures and sunshine in the days leading up to Saturday’s opener should also contribute to a more active bite, according to area guides. The walleyes will be all done spawning, predicts Joe Panichi, a longtime Lake Vermilion guide. “They should be more receptive,” he said. “They’re going to be hungry.”
Strong walleye numbers on Lake Vermilion are likely to draw big numbers of anglers to the lake this year. Fishing traffic was high last year, and with the COVID-19 pandemic on the wane and generally pleasant weather forecast for the weekend, virtually everyone is expecting lots of competition out on the water. “I just hope it doesn’t get too crowded,” said Panichi.
Panichi said he’ll be relying on his standard springtime approach, using minnows, since water temperatures are still relatively cold, reflecting chillier weather in late April and early May. If water temperatures warm up enough, and the fish get more active, he said he may switch to plastic baits. He’ll be working the west end for the most part on opener, which he reserves for fishing with family. “The west end is getting better every year,” he said. “We have a year class that’s pretty large.”
Panichi regularly finds good numbers of smaller walleye in deeper water (30 foot-plus) this time of year, but if he can’t pick up enough larger fish, he’ll explore shallower water, especially in the mornings and evenings.
Longtime guide Terry Sjoberg, recently retired, said he’ll start his quest for walleye on his home court, in Pike Bay. If that isn’t producing, he said he’ll likely head over to Cherry Island in Big Bay. “If I’m desperate, I might head down near Mud Creek,” he said. Sjoberg said he likes to bobber fish in the mornings on opener, especially when he has a youngster in the boat. “And we always catch fish,” he said. This year, Sjoberg said he looks forward to actually eating some of the walleye he lands in the boat. During his guiding days, the clients typically went home with all the fish.
Sjoberg expects the lake will be exceptionally busy this year. Even though he’s retired from guiding, he estimates he’s received at least 40 calls already this spring from people looking for a guide.
Nelson said he’s seeing the same extraordinary level of interest from anglers. “So far, bookings-wise, we have more than we’ve ever booked at this point,” he said. “With the border still closed, everybody is calling.” He said all of his guides are nearly booked solid well into July.
Like many guides, however, Nelson will be out with family on opener. He expects a strong opener, and anticipates he’ll be using the early season standby, a jig and minnow, in about 12-18 feet, preferably with some current.
He said the mid-April rains did help to boost water levels, which had been running low enough to be a concern prior to the precipitation. Water levels are dropping quickly, however, due to an extended dry spell so far in May.
While Panichi expects a strong opener, he acknowledged that it’s always a bit of a crap shoot.
“It’s the only day of the year you can’t say, you should have been here yesterday,” he joked.
Forecast looks promising
There’s no snow in the forecast this opener, which should allow anglers to spend more time on the water. As of Wednesday, the forecast for opener calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 64 degrees. More clouds than sun are forecast for Sunday, with a high again in the low-to-mid-60s.