On the surface, it was the perfect day to be on the lake.
But below the boats that bobbed softly atop Leech Lake in last year’s Minnesota fishing opener, that sunny, warm, still day didn’t translate. No, it took typical fishing opener weather for Leech to rebound from last year’s disappointing opener.
The difference between the weather last year and for the 2011 opener was extreme, at least through mid-afternoon Saturday: Cold, windy, rainy in the greater Brainerd lakes area. And while most walleye fisheries of note in the area were quiet, both in regard to the bite and angler activity, Leech was rocking.
That walleye chop was no doubt part of the reason some are categorizing 2011 as a hugely successful opener on the Walker area fishery.
“The opener was real good,” said Doug Schultz, DNR large lake specialist for Leech Lake. “I saw a fair number of limits and guys close to full limits. Most were under the slot limit and the biggest were a couple of 27-inchers that the guys released. There was a lot of good fishing out there.
“The standard pattern was in 8 to 10 feet of water with the wind blowing in and jigging a minnow. And it sounds like from what I was hearing around the lake that it (fishing success) was pretty much everywhere. Overall it was a real fantastic start to the season.”
Glenn Knutson of Shriver’s Guide Service in Walker heard much the same.
“It went very well. We heard excellent reports,” Knutson said. “It was a little rough this (Saturday) morning, but everyone was coming in with smiles on their faces. There were lots of limits and lots of fish being caught that were in the slot and went back — 23-, 24, 25-inches.
“Everyone was seeing fish and catching fish. It was real good.”
But while catch numbers appeared to be up considerably from last year, Knutson said there weren’t nearly as many anglers on the water Saturday as there were in last year’s opener — he estimated numbers were down 25 percent. Knutson agreed that probably had a lot to do with the weather. Schultz said a boat count on Leech from Saturday would be available later this week.
At most other walleye lakes visited Saturday in the greater Brainerd lakes area, boat traffic was minimal at best, particularly in the morning and early afternoon — Pelican, North Long, Round, Gull and Upper and Lower South Long lakes all were mostly quiet. On Gull, one angler reported that his group landed three keeper walleyes and a northern pike while fishing from about 6 to 11 a.m. off Gull Point on the south end of the lake.
There was considerably more boat activity on the other side of Gull, with about a dozen boats bobbing in the rain in and around Gull Lake Narrows late Saturday morning. But at the fishing pier at Gull Narrows, which was a hotspot at last year’s opener, only four anglers were on or around the pier and all had just arrived at about noon.
Yes, with the dreary conditions early, it appeared most anglers got a late start Saturday.
But not Clayton Willcox of Minnetonka. Willcox, who has fished out of Terry’s Boat Harbor Marina on Lake Mille Lacs in a half-dozen openers or so, he said, was on one of several launches that were out right when the season kicked off at 12:01 Saturday morning. And while the weather was slightly better very early Saturday morning — Willcox said it was cool, foggy and misty — the going was slow then, too: In about four hours, the nine anglers in the boat combined for three walleyes — two keepers — and a perch, Willcox said.
“We were fishing leeches and plain hooks — bobber fishing ... In 12-20 feet of water,” said Willcox, who said he caught the perch. “We were trolling the shoreline. There were four to five launches out in the bay.”
At Terry’s on Saturday, the report was that the slow start had continued well into the afternoon, even as the skies started clearing up and boats dotted the rough waters of Garrison Bay. Willcox seemed content sipping on a warm beverage at Terry’s, but said he probably would get back out that night.
“I wish it wasn’t so windy,” Willcox said. “It’s way beyond a walleye chop.”