In Minnesota, we certainly love our sports teams. From peewee leagues to the professionals, many of us follow our favorite team from the first practice until the final game of the season. Although the sports may be played differently, all of the teams have one thing in common; each of them studies and prepares for their opponents before they open the season.
The same should be true of Minnesota’s walleye fishermen, and our first game is fast approaching.
More Minnesotans participate in the sport of fishing than any other sport. It is a game played throughout the year and against a variety of opponents. However, it is the walleye opener that is considered by most to be the beginning of the regular season.
Walleyes are the perennial favorites. They are elusive and difficult to beat. Although they outnumber their opponents by millions, they use their home lake or river as an advantage and can be very hard to locate. Finding a team of walleyes to do battle with can be difficult, but with a little pre-season preparation it can be done.
The following is a scouting report from across the state of Minnesota. With the 2011 walleye opener just around the corner, this is a look at the overall strength of this season’s walleye populations and a look at several locations where we can expect to find them exceptionally playful in the coming year.
The outlook for this season is excellent throughout Minnesota. For the past couple of years, several of the largest and most popular lakes within the northern part of the state have been gradually recovering from a series of poor seasons. In the south, several of the prairie potholes that were affected by low oxygen levels in 2004 are now loaded with 5- and 6-year-old fish.
That happy situation is a result of the walleyes that were stocked as fry and fingerlings, following the winterkill. In most cases, those fish are now at a very desirable size. In addition, test netting performed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources during the past few years has shown that a large portion of the state had exceptional walleye spawns from 2005 to 2007. These fish are becoming adults and are plentiful in many locations.
There are differing walleye regulations placed on many lakes within our state. When the season begins, be sure to check the 2011 Minnesota Fishing Regulation booklet for the most current list of size and number restrictions on individual lakes.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources operates four regional offices, each of which manages a large portion of the state. The following is a look at some of the best walleye waters within each of those regions.
REGION 1: NORTHWESTERN MINNESOTA
Several of the largest lakes in the state are located within Region 1, which covers a 22-county portion of northwestern Minnesota. Many of the lakes and rivers found there maintain a good population of walleyes through the course of natural reproduction. In these fisheries, the size and number of available walleyes will vary depending upon the success of each year’s spawn. While that can lead to successive years of poor fishing, at the present time it appears that the opposite is true. Net surveys and angler reports during the past couple of years indicate that the area has rebounded nicely from a lull in walleye action noted during the previous decade.
In the fall of 2010, gill nets were placed in Upper Red Lake, Cass Lake, Leech Lake, and Lake of the Woods. According to Henry Drewes, regional fisheries manager, the surveys determined that walleye populations are thriving in those well-known locations. All four of the lakes are supported by excellent natural reproduction, in addition to some stocking of walleyes in Leech Lake. Each of the lakes had very good walleye fishing in 2010, and is expected to continue to be productive this year.
"My favorite on opening day is Upper Red Lake," Drewes stated. "Weather conditions permitting, an angler can experience phenomenal catch rates early in the season."
That region has plenty more to offer than just the big four. In the Bemidji area, the entire Cass Lake chain of lakes is worth a look. Connected by the Mississippi River, these lakes currently are reaping the benefits of several strong spawns. Although they are not yet trophy fish, these 4- to 6-year-old walleyes should provide plenty of action. The same scenario is true of North Lida Lake, near Pelican Rapids, and Pleasant Lake, east of Hackensack. In Cass County, Woman Lake is a consistent walleye fishery, with a history of being hot early in the season, and again in late autumn. The Rainy River can be an excellent option in this region, especially early in the season. During the spring spawn, walleyes move into the river, from Lake of the Woods. Around the time of the opener, anglers can find plenty of fish that have not yet returned to the lake.
REGION 2: NORTHEASTERN MINNESOTA
This 10-county region is primarily located to the north and east of Mille Lacs Lake, and the famous fishery can be found within its jurisdiction. The outlook for 2011 is a good one on the big lake. Another location that had a series of years with successful reproduction, the Mille Lacs Lake test-net surveys performed in 2009, found an abundance of walleyes. The DNR notes that the walleyes appear to be sustaining a good growth rate, and there are several year-classes available. The fish have now had another summer to gain some girth, and should have fishermen smiling this season.
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