GRAND RAPIDS — By all indications, the only impact that the coronavirus had on the fishing opener in Minnesota was that it prompted more anglers to get out fishing.
With the coronavirus shutting down business in Minnesota, many people decided a good way to get out of the house was to buy a fishing license and hit one of the many fishing lakes available in Minnesota.
Ken Roy, owner of River Rat Trading Post in rural Cohasset, said that despite the cold weather for the opener, anglers have been enjoying success.
“Even with the wind blowing every day, it’s been pretty good fishing,” Roy said. “We have not received many good reports on crappies because it is just so cold out but the northerns and walleyes have been biting pretty good on all the lakes really.
“A lot of guys said Winnie (Lake Winnibigoshish) has been really good but they can’t keep a lot because there is big fish and Red Lake has been really good with lots and lots of people up there. I can’t say that Bowstring has been great, but it’s been decent.
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“As far as openers go, it has been great because I think so many people are unemployed right now and the DNR said their license sales are up 40 percent. More and more people came this weekend and it was crazy.”
Shawn Peck of Winnie One-Stop, located in rural Deer River, said reports received by the business indicated that the walleye bite was “OK at best.” He said the walleyes are just coming out of the spawn and with the cold temperatures they were sluggish.
“A lot of the people we talked to caught fish but it wasn’t gangbusters,” Peck said. “Jig and minnow was good in about nine to 12 feet. I talked to a couple guys who caught fish 27 or 28 inches.”
Peck said he didn’t talk to many people who were fishing solely for crappies, but he said he talked to some anglers who were fishing in smaller lakes and they reported that the fishing was not great. However, he said the northern pike bite on Winnie was very good.
“I talked to a lot of people who caught more northerns than usual I would say,” Peck explained.
Roy said, like always, anglers are enjoying their greatest success using a jig and a minnow. He said walleyes are being caught in three to five feet of water on Red Lake while anglers were having success in four to eight feet of water on Bowstring. Walleyes were being caught a little deeper in Winnie, in close to 10 feet of water.
As for the coronavirus, Roy said many people were wearing masks and taking precautions. He said social distancing was practiced in his business to prevent congestion in the store.
“It was definitely a little different situation but there were still lots and lots of people,” Roy said about the virus’s impact.
Peck said one big negative for the fishing opener is the fact that campgrounds are closed due to the pandemic and he added that the weather also was not good. Those who entered his business were sure to practice social distancing, he said.
“Considering the campgrounds were closed and the weather was horrible with the wind blowing 100 miles an hour, and with everything else going on, I think the opener was OK,” Peck said. “We didn’t have the numbers in the area because the campgrounds were closed but I think the resorts were fairly full and at times it got fairly busy here. Everybody used common sense and people stayed away from each other.”
While the early ice departure helped anglers with their success, Roy said the only downside to the early ice exit is the scarcity of shiner minnows, the preference bait of choice for Minnesota openers by many anglers. He said the shiners are not running yet because it is so cold, but he added that he has not run out of the shiners yet.
“On opener through Memorial Day everybody wants shiner minnows; we didn’t run out but I know a lot of bait stores that didn’t have them and that in turn puts a little bit more pressure on me because we have them,” Roy explained. “People want shiners and they will drive hundreds of miles to get them. They did and they were all standing at my door.
“I know a lot of people who are still sitting with no shiners. It has to warm up a little bit before they start getting everybody to move around for them.”
Roy said he has heard many reports of big fish being taken and released. He said a friend of his fishing on Leech Lake threw back three walleyes that were 27 and 28 inches long.
“It’s been pretty good; everybody seems to be pretty happy of the way the fishing has been,” Roy explained.
“Boat and Water Don” Basista was out and about taking photos and talking with fishing parties on Opener weekend. He observed Winnie and Bowstring lakes to be the busiest.
“Joe Karu, owner of Williams Narrows on Lake Cut-foot-Sioux was booked to capacity as were other resorts on Lake Winnibigoshish. Fishing was good on Lake Bowstring and fair on Lake Winnibigoshish,” reported Basista.
Sheriff’s Search and Rescue had a boat patrolling Lakes Winnibigoshish and Cut-Foot-Sioux, and another trailered boat being pulled in the area for response to other lakes, along with members Roger Clark and Mike Stitt pulling a trailered boat in the eastern part of the county for any response to lakes in that area, according to Basista.
Deputy Paul Provinzino patrolled opening day on Lakes Winnibigoshish and Cut-Foot-Sioux, and Sunday on Lakes Deer and Moose, as lake traffic dwindled with anglers going back home on Mother’s Day. Provinzino commented that with the windy cold opener many anglers practiced life jacket use.
AIS inspectors were stationed at Mosomo Landing on Lake Cut-Foot-Sioux and Bowstring Landing at County Road 35, reporting that on opening day they were very busy with the heavy boat traffic at both accesses.
With the lack of rain and windy conditions, fire danger is at very high, says Nathan Haskins, Assistant Area Supervisor at DNR Forestry Deer River Station which covers Itasca County and portions of Koochiching and Cass Counties.
“DNR responded to 18 fires and assisted local partner agencies on other fires,” said Haskins adding fire danger remains elevated until a combination of green up and significant precipitation occur.
As always, opening weekend brings a boost to the local economy even with restaurants being closed to entry, many had signs along roadways about carry-out meals with good response.
“The opening weekend for this year’s fishing season did not seem to be slowed much by the current health situation in Minnesota,” added Lt. Jeff Koehn, Minnesota Department of Resources Enforcement Division Supervisor for District 7. “There were many anglers out and it really looked similar to past openers, with a few exceptions in the area. We noticed an increase in anglers fishing in locations that traditionally don’t see those numbers, such as rivers or smaller lakes. There was a little disappointment by some not being able to utilize the established camp grounds in the area as they regularly do for opener, but there were many rigs at the accesses. All in all the fishing opener went well with moderate to on par with a normal harvest.”