First there’s the invasive species issue. And the abundance of small pike and lack of perch in area lakes. And cold water temperatures. And, of course, that whole dismal-weather-outlook thing.
There are many reasons for anglers to adopt a glass-half-empty — or worse — mindset for Saturday’s Minnesota fishing opener.
Yes, optimism should be high with the opener, you would think. But anglers aren’t always the most patient bunch — the opening hours often determine the success of these fishing openers, especially when poor weather limits time on the water. And success can differ from lake to lake and angler to angler. A banner opener for one angler could be a dismal one for another — in the same boat. And, overall, the success of an opener usually isn’t gauged until years later, when there’s a greater body of work in which to determine these things.
According to one guy in the know, despite the aforementioned challenges facing anglers in 2011, there’s a good chance anglers in the Brainerd area will someday look back on this walleye opener as a success.
“Overall, there are great populations of walleyes around the area,” said Marc Bacigalupi, who is experiencing his first opener as DNR fisheries supervisor in Brainerd. “Typically in the big ones (lakes). There’s an abundance of young game fish and middle-sized and big ones, too.
“I think people will look back on this time period in 10 to 20 years and say it was some pretty good fishing back then in 2011.”
Another reason for the optimism is the DNR’s stocking efforts. Fish stocked in 2009 should be big enough to keep by now.
“There should be some ’09 fish. We’ve seen some good numbers (from that class),” Bacigalupi said. “The key part is if they survive from that young stage to the size anglers want to see.”
There are other concerns with the fisheries, too. Bacigalupi said numbers for perch — a prime food source for walleye — remain low in area lakes.
“The No. 1 fisheries issue is keeping enough perch to keep the walleyes and pike going,” he said. “It’s hard to find a lake with a high number of perch. That’s not good. Gull is a good one, but that’s the exception. On a lot of the others, there were just a few per sampling net. That’s not enough for the pike or walleye. That’s key for walleye survival.”
The perch shortage goes hand-in-hand with the pike issue, Bacigalupi said. The northern pike season also opens Saturday, and Bacigalupi urges anglers to keep smaller pike and release the bigger ones in an attempt to reverse what is becoming a troubling cycle.
“There are some lakes with big pike and some with a lot of hammer-handles (smaller pike). That’s a problem,” Bacigalupi said. “We’re really trying to encourage the release of those pike over 24 inches — to fillet the smaller ones and release the big one. It’s hard to do. But they’re the top predator. They have a huge effect on the fishing community.
“The smaller pike hammer down the perch. It throws the lake out of whack. We can’t stock enough perch.”
Despite a harsh winter, winterkill won’t likely be much of a factor for area lakes in 2011.
“Lakes that have good walleye numbers wouldn’t winterkill,” said Andy Carlson, DNR research biologist in Brainerd. “There’s typically more water (in those lakes).”
Red Sand Lake near Baxter suffered fairly extensive winterkill, and although stocked with walleyes, it’s not known as a walleye fishery. Pike, however, continue to flourish there despite the lake’s tendency for winterkill.
Gull Lake north of Brainerd remains the area’s most popular fishery, and despite the discovery of zebra mussels there in October, Bacigalupi doesn’t see any problems for anglers on the lake. But he and the DNR urge anglers to be conscious of the invasive species problem, which is more prevalent than ever.
“That (invasives) is certainly a message (this fishing and boating season),” he said. “If they’re getting an overdose of this information, (hopefully they’re not) tuning it out. And we need to follow all boating rules. We’re hoping that all people are conscious of that. But I don’t think that (zebra mussels found in Gull Lake) will deter people from going to Gull.”
Bacigalupi said he will probably forego Gull and opt with smaller lakes in his first opener in the Brainerd area.
“I might be a little low-key on the opener. I like to keep the lake (unknown) to the last minute.
“I’ll fish for walleyes. I always start with a jig and a minnow, then go to a Lindy Rig and then, if I have to, I’ll dig deep into my bag of tricks. And I like to learn a new lake. There’s a lot of water to cover in this area.”