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Thoughts on the fishing opener

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May 14, Minnesota's Fishing Opener, is like a second Christmas to many folks in our neck of the woods, myself included. This year especially, it seems like we have been cooped up in the house for an unbelievable amount of time. With this winter unwilling to release its icy grip, some of those early pan fishing opportunities just haven't been available. If you are like me, you can't wait to hit the soft water and chase some wily walleyes or maybe some toothy pike.

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Now, a disclaimer, I am by no means a fishing guide or fishing professional, I'm just an average guy who loves to fish, write and help people learn about fishing. What I hope to do in this column is give some ideas for the opener and help you to put some fish in the net on the 14th.

How the opener will be this year seems to be the question on everyone's mind. The talk this spring has been about how late the ice has gone out. In fact, if you look to the far north, the ice is still on (as of May 4) at places like Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods. In general, according to the DNR website, lake ice is about five days behind "average." While this is a little late, it is not crazy late. The thing that seems a little different to me this year is how slowly everything is warming up. We've rarely been in the 60s this spring and we are still getting those high 20s, low 30s at night.

Water temperature will play a role in where you will find fish. The lower temps mean that the spawn is later which means that the fish will most likely be shallow. The first weeks of the season, I will concentrate my efforts around spawning areas. Places like river and creek inlets will most likely be holding fish, due to the fact that they warm up quickest and are likely spawning area. I think the fish will be somewhat spread out, so moving around will be key.

As far as technique, S-L-O-W will be important. I won't hit the water for the first month of the season or more without shiner minnows. I like casting a jig into shallow (less than 10 feet) water near the before mentioned inlets or on weed edges and slowly snap my wrist up, reeling when the jig is falling. The fish always bite on the fall, be ready to set the hook when you feel the tap. While walleyes hold to weeds a lot more than people think, the great part about weed edges is you can catch a lot of fish; from walleyes to northerns, bass, and crappies, they all hang on weed edges. Personally, I like catching fish, any kind of fish, and weed edges are great!

While a jig and a shiner are hard to beat early, I also never leave home without nightcrawlers and leeches. Crawlers have a reputation as bait for later in the summer and I am not sure why that is. I have caught a lot of May and June walleyes on crawlers and a Lindy rig, again worked slowly on a weed edge or near an inlet.

Another resource that anglers should not shy away from is rivers. We are blessed in this area to have a lot of rivers that have great fishing. All you need is a fishing rod and tackle and you can catch river walleyes. A jig and a minnow or a jig and a Mister Twister tail are all the tackle you need. Our rivers are beautiful, easy to get to, and most of the time you will be all by yourself. The Crow Wing is an excellent walleye fishery that should be good during a late spring like we've had this year.

Opener is a special time. It is not just the fishing that is important. I look forward to opener because it's a time when my family gets together. For as long as I can remember I've headed to South Long Lake near Brainerd for the opener. For years, my grandma and grandpa had a cabin on the south shore and most of the time all five of my dad's brothers and sisters, as well as all of the extended families would cram into that tiny two-room cabin when we weren't in our boats. I'd like to tell you we always caught our limits, but we didn't; the thing I can tell you is we always had fun. I wouldn't trade all those openers with grandma and grandpa and the family. I get to pass those memories on to my daughters and they will have that same strong connection to family, something that seems to be lacking in society in many cases today.

Now, mom and dad have a home on the north shore of South Long, Grandma passed away in 1995 and Grandpa in 2003. The faces have changed over the years, but the ritual is still the same. Hurry up and get to the lake right after work on Friday, toss and turn in anticipation until sun-up on Saturday (I'm too old to go out at midnight), get in the boat and fish all day, stopping for a couple of meals and a little visiting. The most important thing isn't the catching, but the fishing and the memories made during the weekend.

Get out on opening weekend, whether in a 20-foot boat or sitting on a five gallon bucket on a river bank. Most importantly, take somebody you care about with you, especially your kids, and share the experience. If you bring your kids, bring your patience too, make it enjoyable for them. You'd be surprised how easy it is to talk about things when you're on the water and how close you'll get to one another. The memories you'll make will last forever, whether you're an old fishing pro or you've never wet a line. Good luck, keep your life jacket on, and we'll see you on the water!

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