Conventional wisdom has it that half a million anglers, give or take a few thousand, will take to their favorite lake or stream Saturday, May 11, for the 2019 Minnesota Fishing Opener.
Ethan Rogers won’t be one of them.
Manager of Northwoods Bait and Tackle in Bemidji, Rogers says the bait shop will be open continuously from 6 a.m. Friday until 10 p.m. Saturday.
Call it the fishing equivalent of a marathon.
“I’m hoping for Monday,” Rogers said of his prospects for getting into a boat.
Steeped in tradition, the Minnesota Fishing Opener is one of the biggest events on the state’s outdoors calendar. Despite the name, everyone knows the opener really is about the walleye in the minds of most anglers.
After a long, cold winter, anglers are excited to get in a boat again.
“Oh gosh, people are beside themselves after this winter,” Rogers said. “A lot of guys weren’t able to fish here by the time we got to the end of January. It got so hard to get out and fish, so they missed a good month of the walleye season here for most guys.
“So everybody’s ready to be in a boat, that’s for sure.”
The shortage of minnow supplies — especially spottail shiners and golden shiners — has been well-publicized in the days leading up to the opener.
Supplies definitely could be better, Rogers says, a trend he attributes to a late spring that has delayed the shiner spawn and a tough winter that resulted in die-offs in some of the ponds used by minnow trappers.
“We’ve been fortunate. Right now, we actually have a pretty good diverse supply of bait — it’s just not the quantities we’d like to see,” Rogers said Thursday.
That includes spottail shiners, golden shiners, emerald shiners, fatheads and leeches.
For anglers venturing to Lake of the Woods, Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said he talked to some of the area bait shops Thursday, and live emerald shiners are nonexistent.
On the upside, frozen emerald shiners are the go-to bait for many anglers on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River, and on that count, the scenario is much more favorable, Henry says.
Fatheads also are a good option.
“In a nutshell, nobody has any live shiners,” he said. “It was a tough year getting them last fall. Everybody has a good supply of frozen shiners. Some (bait shops) still have a few native frozen shiners left; otherwise, they’re purchasing from other areas like Wisconsin. But they have plenty of inventory in stock.
“They know they need those frozen shiners.”
Thursday satellite imagery shows the south shore of Lake of the Woods is largely ice-free, except for what appears to be a small band of thin ice along the shore from about Long Point to Zippel Bay. That will move with the wind and should be all but gone by Saturday. And if the lake is rough, sturgeon anglers fishing the Rainy River have reported catching good numbers of walleyes in the river, Henry says.
There are options for anglers willing to be flexible.
Weather forecasts for Saturday fluctuated throughout the week but appear to be setting up for a cool, cloudy day — of course — across northwest Minnesota. Highs Saturday are forecast for the mid to high 50s, with a 50 to 60% chance of rain. There’ll be more sun Sunday, with high temperatures pushing 60 degrees.
Wind is the wild card, especially on big water. In Baudette, for example, the National Weather Service is calling for south winds of 10 to 13 mph Saturday, with gusts as high as 18 mph, switching to the north at 6 to 10 mph Sunday, with gusts up to 22 mph.
Not ideal, but as they say in Minnesota, it could be worse.
“We’ll take 50 degrees for the opener,” Rogers of Northwoods Bait and Tackle said with a laugh. “It’s hopefully not snowing or sleeting like we’ve almost come to expect here for opener. It’s going to be a pretty traditional opener — it can’t be perfect.
“We’re going to have some wind, we’re going to have some drizzle, and we’re going to have some rain on and off, but I think that will help the bite … I think.”
As anticipation for Saturday’s opener continues to build, here are a few other nuggets about the big day, courtesy of Explore Minnesota Tourism and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:
This year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener, the 72nd annual, is taking place on Fountain Lake in Albert Lea. The festivities got underway Thursday and continue until Sunday.
Minnesota has 11,842 lakes — 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes — 69,000 miles of rivers and streams and more miles of shoreline than California, Florida and Hawaii combined.
Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 12, and fishing opener weekend doubles as Take a Mom Fishing Weekend. Mothers who are residents of Minnesota can fish without a license from Saturday, May 11, to Sunday, May 12. Fishing is allowed only for species that have open fishing seasons. That’s not the only freebie: In most cases, Minnesotans don’t need a license when fishing in a state park.