As the walleyes go, so will go "Walleyedan."
Mr. Walleye, however, may not go at all.
But regardless of if you go fishing in the early days of the Minnesota open-water season - if those of you to the north can find open water - everyone seems to have a theory or strategy on how to catch fish - walleye in particular - at a time when it's, well, difficult to catch fish.
"I think the smaller lakes are what you'll have to hit," said Gary Roach - Mr. Walleye - who had minor surgery Thursday and wasn't sure if he'd be ready for the state fishing opener, which kicked off Saturday. "And stay with small bait - like winter fishing. I think some (walleyes) will still be spawning. The ice just went out (on some Brainerd area lakes). They've got to be right in the spawn, I think."
Smaller area lakes, such as Nisswa might be the ticket early in the state open-water fishing season, which opened Saturday.
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"There are so many questions," said Dan "Walleyedan" Eigen, who was to serve as guide/host for Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Saturday at Pelican Lake and Breezy Point Resort in the 60th annual Governor's Fishing Opener. "Walleyes don't all spawn at the same time. Some females will be in deep water recovering and there's also got to be some bigger females lurking in the shallower water.
"The warmest areas of the lake will be where the fish are. The northern end of the lake warms up the fastest. It sees the most sun. That's a good starting point."
Roach, from north of Merrifield, usually fishes Lake Mille Lacs. The lake was expected to be mostly ice-free by the opener, but lost gillnets on the lake have caused concern.
As of late last week, Chippewa band members had recovered eight missing gillnets on the lake and were searching for seven others. They were lost the previous week after a wind shift reportedly pushed ice into the lake's western shore at Garrison. An 1837 treaty gives the bands the right to spear and net walleyes on the lake.
Smaller area lakes, such as West Twin might be the ticket early in the state open-water fishing season, which opened Saturday.
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"Gosh, I hope they're off there," Roach said of the nets. In the past, tribe members have gotten the nets off the lake by the opener. That's expected to be the case again this year.
"It's bad enough to have nets out now," he said late last week. "They're taking the spawners out now. It's terrible."
As for the ice on some northern lakes, such as Winnibigoshish, Bemidji and Leech, "I think if you go north of Leech Lake, bring an ice auger with you," Roach said.
A boater appeared to be prepping his boat Wednesday while idling along on North Long Lake. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Others had their own take on early season equipment, tackle, bait and strategies. A look at what a couple of pros and a half-dozen guides/hosts for the Governor's Fishing Opener had to say:
Roach: "If the temperature is in the 50s, take minnows and leeches. Light jigs. Maybe even try anchoring up and casting. Vertical fishing. Look for an early morning or late evening bite and smaller lakes with weeds. And tiny, tiny jigs. Try the mouth of some of these creeks. Cast little Rapalas in 3 to 4 feet of water. Along the Mississippi River ... A lot of the rivers are high. Any little creek coming into rivers. That's my hot spot to try. And marinas where there's warmer water. Try Gull Lake by Bar Harbor. There will be a lot of fishing there. A lot of guys will be fishing off shore."
Eigen: "I'll have a Lindy Rig rod and a jigging stick ... It depends on the conditions. An 8-ounce jig with a spottail shiner. And at some point, (Berkley) Gulp Alive. Live bait - spottail shiners, and Berkley Gulp has been flying off the shelves. And a Northland (Tackle) Fire-Ball Jig with a Stinger hook and a spottail shiner. Have them (anglers) work 8 to 14 feet of water."
Minnesota fishing by the numbers
2.1 million: Number of people who fish in Minnesota each year.
1.4 million: Number of fishing licenses sold.
25 percent: Anglers who specifically target walleye when they fish.
88: Number of fishing licenses sold per minute during peak of sales 24 hours before the fishing opener.
16 million: Estimated statewide walleye population of harvestable fish.
3-4 million: Average annual statewide walleye harvest.
85: Percent of walleye harvest that is naturally produced fish.
1,200: Number of lakes in Minnesota with fishable populations of walleye.
58: Number of walleye lakes with special walleye regulations.
78: Number of lakes that provide nearly half the state's walleye harvest.
900: Number of Minnesota lakes stocked with walleye on a rotating basis.
1880: The year walleye were first stocked in Minnesota.
212 million: Number of fry to be stocked this year in 319 lakes.
160,000: Pounds of fingerlings stocked by the DNR this year.
17.8: Weight in pounds and ounces of Minnesota's record walleye (caught by Leroy Chiovette in 1979).
43,812: Fishing-related jobs in Minnesota.
$2.8 billion: Fishing-related retail sales.
$4.7 billion: The ripple effect of fishing-related sales on Minnesota's economy.
$1.36 billion: Fishing-related salaries, wages and business earnings.
$342.2 million: Fishing-related state and local tax revenues.
- Source: DNR
As for the GFO guides/hosts:
Craig Dickmeyer, Breezy Point, high school soccer teammate of Pawlenty's at South St. Paul: "I'll go out (before the opener) and do a little sniffing around for some crappies. If that happens, I don't think we'll spend much time on Pelican. We'll use jigs and minnows, maybe a little PowerBait. We'll just work the traditional crappie spots."
Art Gensmer, Pine River, retired DNR conservation officer: "I think we'll be trolling with Shad Raps or Rapalas. If not, Lindy Rigs on the river bar. I think the walleyes will be in shallow water - 6 feet and shallower."
Rod Romine Jr., Breezy Point: "We'll go for walleyes with Lindy Rigs and minnows. I'm thinking the deepest we'll go is 12 to 15 feet. It depends on cloud cover and if we have rain. They could be off the shallows in 2 to 3 feet. It's been such a weird year. I know that in some of the channel areas people have reported catching walleyes."
Conrad Peterson, owner of Gopher Tackle in Cuyuna: "Pelican is kind of a tough lake in the spring. We'll have rods with jig heads and minnows and fishing kind of drop-offs - 32 feet. But we'll have the crappie poles ready. We'll get something. But don't look for much of a bite until late afternoon."
Tim Tweed, Pequot Lakes: "With the cold water I'm guessing they'll be lethargic. I'm guessing they're just spawning now. I'll go with shiners and Lindys and throw some leeches on, too."
Lee Fisher, Breezy Point, area rep for Northland Tackle: "It's a different spring. It's late here. The water is still cold. I think it will be a little slower bite, but I think we'll be OK if we have some (good) weather. We'll use small jigs - a (Northland) Fire-Ball - tipped with small minnows, or a slip bobber with a small jig. It might be better to anchor. I guess I look around until I find fish. I think we'll be in warmer, shallower bays - less than 10 feet, probably. But the walleye like to hang around 24 to 26 feet at Pelican, even early in the season. There might be some in outlying bars. We'll have to have a look. Some of the smaller lakes may well be better than some of the bigger lakes. But I think quite a few fish will be caught on Pelican and Gull. And Round is always pretty good. It depends on the weather. I remember back in the '60s and '70s getting snow in the boat."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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