Sunday, you would think, might rank as a big day for the Marv Koep family.
It is, after all, Mother's Day. And, as it turns out, it's Koep's 67th birthday.
But as Koep - and wife Judy - readily admit, it will pale in comparison to Saturday. Any Saturday. And most any day of the year.
At 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the walleye and northern pike season kicks off in Minnesota. Sure, there will be many, many more days to fish for walleye during the Minnesota open-water walleye season. But for Koep and many others, there's nothing - nothing - like the opener.
"Oh yeah, I have to (fish opening day). It's a must," Koep said, taking a break Wednesday from prepping for the big day. "Some days when it's cold, there's no eight-hour days on the water anymore. But you have to go out, no matter what."
Saturday is expected to be, naturally, the coolest day of the week, with highs of 50 degrees or so and a chance of rain in the Brainerd area. But as most anglers - and not just the hard-core variety - will tell you, this is Minnesota. And this is the opener. It explains why tens of thousands of anglers are expected to be out Saturday, regardless of the weather.
As he has done for the last 25 or so years, Koep will take a group from Pennsylvania out opening day. They'll fish Pelican Lake at Breezy Point, Koep's home lake. At this time last year, Pelican and Breezy were the place to be opening day - they hosted the 2008 Governor's Fishing Opener. For the first time in the history of the Governor's Fishing Opener, the event is being held on a metro-area lake - White Bear Lake - this year.
Koep and others are looking forward to not having to deal with that scene this year. But this is Minnesota lake country. Area lakes will be bustling, governor or no governor.
It will make for a long day for Nikki Shoutz.
"I don't usually get much sleep," Shoutz, a veteran DNR conservation officer out of Pine River, said of opening weekend.
But better to work this opener than another Minnesota outdoors tradition.
"It's my favorite opener," Shoutz said. "I think opening fishing is fun. The deer (opener) is stressful. It (the fishing opener) is just as busy. But I like being on the water and like being on the boat. And fishermen aren't carrying rifles.
"The Whitefish Chain is where I'm planning on spending most of my time (opening weekend). I'm sure I'll trade out for the smaller boat for smaller lakes, too. I'll be out before midnight (Friday) - there are some people who like to do a little pre-fishing.
"Upper Hay (Lake near Jenkins) is always a very busy walleye opener lake and a good one. And the Whitefish Chain. I'll focus on that Friday night and Saturday."
Among the violations she typically sees opening weekend: "For sure expired licenses and registration on boats, and not enough PFDs (personal flotation devices) for everyone on the boat and a throwable device for boats over 16 feet.
"And one thing that's not been talked about that I've seen in the last three years is the limit of one over 20 inches. That's a statewide regulation. Opening weekend if you run into a good honey hole, I've seen that violation as well. But it's mostly overlooked because people zoom in on special-regulation lakes and forget that statewide regulation. You have to look at that and remember that."
According to the DNR, the walleye bite on Whitefish and Pelican and other area lakes should be decent for the opener, what with overcast skies and a slight wind (Saturday's forecast), which should create a nice walleye chop. The DNR's fishing report for several area lakes:
• North Long, Pelican and Whitefish lakes: Each has abundant walleye populations with several size classes - and good numbers of northern pike from small to average size.
• Lake Mille Lacs: Water levels are expected to be up this spring, and the walleye bite - thanks to some up-and-coming larger fish - should provide good action.
• Gull Lake: Early morning and evening is the time to go after walleye and northern pike on Gull. Northern pike are abundant, and there's a good opportunity to land a 30-plus incher.
• Leech Lake: There's a four-fish limit and an 18- to 26-inch slot limit, but the walleye bite frequently and many of them exceed 18 inches. Northern pike are abundant and perch up to 13 inches are common. Anglers should find good-sized crappie and bluegill, too.
Koep and his group will be fishing with shiners and basic Lindy rigs in the shallows, where most of the fish - and hence, fishermen - are expected to be found early season.
"Marv has his customers from Pennsylvania opening weekend so we might get a hamburger later on Sunday night for Mother's Day," Judy Koep said in an e-mail Tuesday. "Marv's birthday is on Sunday, too, and he'll be doing his favorite thing - fishing.
"An interesting weekend."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864.
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