GRAND RAPIDS — With more than half a million anglers eagerly awaiting to launch their boats on its lakes to
catch iconic fish species such as walleye and Northern pike, Minnesota’s fishing season opener is a cherished and long-standing tradition across generations of avid anglers.
An unofficial holiday for many Minnesotans and a defining marker of the onset of summer and camping season, fishing opener––Saturday, May 15––can’t come soon enough.
With April-like temperatures in March, rapidly fluctuating levels of precipitation, and early ice out experienced by most Minnesota lakes, 2021 is off to an unusual start. In a conversation with Dave Weitzel, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor, Weitzel explains the effects of these abnormal weather events on fishing and what anglers can expect heading into opener weekend.
How are Grand Rapids area lakes doing “fish-wise” compared to other areas and years?
The Grand Rapids area continues to be the top destination for anglers. The area boasts great fishing for a variety of species including panfish, walleye, northern pike, and bass. Great walleye opportunities can be found throughout the area. Some good opening day lakes include Bowstring, Split Hand, Round, and Winnibigoshish. These lakes are large but relatively shallow, so they warm up quickly.
Folks may have heard that we were not able to stock walleye fry last year due to the pandemic. The good news is that most of our stocked walleye lakes get fry every year, so a missed stocking is not expected to be noticed by anglers. We were successfully able to stock many lakes with fingerling walleye in the fall as planned, and most of our walleye fisheries remain in very good shape.
Would you consider this year’s ice out early for the Grand Rapids area?
Ice out was one to two weeks early this year. An early ice out often allows the water to warm up a bit prior to fishing opener. This can result in good conditions for pike and walleye anglers, as the fish will have completed spawning and are often hungry.
Are area water levels down from average spring levels?
Water levels were very low after ice out, but have increased after recent rain events. DNR fisheries does not track water levels, but they seem about average.
Can lake levels affect fishing in the area?
Yes and no. Low water during the spring can impact fish spawning. Walleye and Northern pike often reproduce well when water levels are high because more habitat is submerged. Low water can expose prime spawning sites and limit natural reproduction. Variable reproduction is not immediately noticed by anglers, however, as it takes several years to grow a keeper-sized fish. Low water can have an impact on boat launches, however.
What are some newly implemented fishing regulations anglers should be aware of when they hit Minnesota lakes on May 15?
New fishing regulations for sunfish went into effect on several local lakes. Cut Foot Sioux (including Little Cut Foot Sioux), Jay Gould (including Little Jay Gould and Blackwater), Island (near Deer River), Bear, and Little Bowstring lakes now have five fish daily limits for
sunfish. These regulations are expected to protect size quality so that these lakes continue to produce sunfish more than eight inches.
Do you have any fishing, boating, or safety advice for anglers for this year’s fishing opener weekend?
Anglers are encouraged to wear their life jackets while fishing from a boat. Even with early ice out and nice spring weather, water temperatures are relatively cold in May, so hypothermia can limit a person’s swimming ability. Life jackets only work if they are worn.
Given Weitzel’s insights, anglers eager to set out on Minnesota’s lakes should be informed of the state of local fish, newly implemented fishing regulations, and ways to stay safe on the water. Despite the uncertainty of the weather and numerous other ongoing events in these first months of 2021, there should be no doubt this year’s fishing opener will be a great opportunity to catch some picture-worthy fish and make memories to tell for years to come.