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The lure of the walleye

BAXTER, Minn. - Ron Lindner has been in the pro fishing business for nearly 50 years, and he has a simple theory as to why people love walleye.

It satisfies their taste buds.

"It's the eating," Lindner said. "They are the finest-eating fish in the world, bar none, in my opinion."

Ross Hagemeister - who primarily fishes Ottertail Lake and the surrounding area - has been a fishing guide for 16 years.

He estimates 95 percent of the groups he guides are requested walleye trips and the other 5 percent are "just take me fishing" trips.

"I think that speaks to the popularity, the mystique, of the walleye itself," said Hagemeister.

Anglers will flood area lakes Saturday for the Minnesota fishing opener, with most targeting the walleye, which has been the state fish since 1965.

"People will definitely catch their share of pike this weekend, but because they're after walleye, they will tend to not be impressed," said Jim Wolters, the Department of Natural Resources regional fisheries supervisor at Detroit Lakes. "There are a few people who do target the pike, but by and large, it's the walleye."

Wolters will be stocking walleye fry (newly hatched walleye that average less than a half inch in length) on the opener.

Wolters said his office manages 73 lakes in six counties and stocks about 20 of those lakes on an annual basis.

"We get requests quite a bit for walleyes to be stocked in pretty much every lake," he said. "But again, the habitat kind of dictates where it's going to live and survive naturally."

Arlin Schalekamp, the DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Fergus Falls, stocks 130 lakes in two counties. Schalekamp estimates that walleye make up 95 percent of that stocking effort.

According to the DNR, the state stocks about 1,000 lakes with walleye. Minnesota's fisheries collect about half a billion walleye eggs per year that result in stocking 390 million fry and 2.5 million fingerlings.

"That's what people want to catch," Schalekamp said. "If you do angler surveys, that's the No. 1 preference. ... I'm sure it has to do with it's the state fish of Minnesota and it's a good-tasting fish. It fights fairly well. It's really common throughout the state. I guess it's all those factors."

Hagemeister thinks the finicky nature of walleye is another reason people like to fish the species.

Depending on lake type, the average catch time for one walleye ranges from five to 10 hours, according to the DNR. It's worth noting that is an average time for all anglers and isn't an accurate indicator for an expert angler or on lakes that are known to be abundant with walleye.

"They are notorious for being a little bit trickier. We have kind of elevated them above a lot of the other species in the state," Hagemeister said. "It's just embedded now. It's part of our fishing culture. It's part of our outdoors culture to say that the walleye is prize."

Linder, 77, the co-founder of Lindner's Angling Edge, has been involved with television fishing shows for more than 40 years. He invented the Lindy Rig and said he's currently in the process of inventing a new walleye lure he hopes to bring to the market next year.