Minnesota's 2011 Walleye Outlook

If you're eager for angling action, then don't pass up a chance to hit any of these Minnesota walleye hotspots this spring.

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.

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.

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.

Elsewhere in the northeast, the area surrounding Brainerd appears to be a good option. Gull Lake has a great population of walleyes, with a strong class of both 3- and 5-year-old fish. In addition, there is always the possibility of catching a trophy. Just a short distance away, North Long Lake is a popular destination for walleye enthusiasts. To the north, Lake Winnibigoshish and its connected waters are primed for a stellar year. Net surveys from 2009, showed these lakes to be loaded with 12- to 14-inch walleyes. It is expected that these fish will be numerous in 2011, with an additional couple of inches of length being noticeable.

The forecast for Rainy Lake is promising, where a trend of high catch-rates is expected to continue. While the lake has an abundance of small walleyes, angler reports and test netting have confirmed there are also plenty of large fish available. Lake Kabetogama, in St. Louis County, has an excellent population of walleyes in a variety of sizes. The lake is aided by regular stocking of walleye fry, and is home to plenty of sauger. Cedar Lake and Lake Alexander, found in Morrison County, were surveyed in the spring of 2010. The lakes were found to have plenty of walleyes, with an avera

ge length that exceeds 20 inches in both fisheries. Walleyes that approached 30 inches were also recorded.

While Region 3 is described as being Central Minnesota, it encompasses much more of the state. The region stretches from Todd County, through the Twin Cities metro area, then southeastward to the Iowa border. Walleyes worth attacking and the lakes that hold them become more scattered in this block of 23 counties. In fact, a large portion of the southeast is nearly devoid of any prospective water. Despite that fact, a majority of the area has plenty to offer.

On the northern fringe of Region 3, Lake Shamineau certainly is worthy of targeting. Located near Motley, the walleyes in this lake are numerous and distributed throughout a variety of sizes. The Little Falls Area Office of the DNR describes this as an untapped walleye fishery, which is at its best during low-light conditions. Other potentially hot locations in the area include Guernsey Lake and Little Sauk Lake, found in Todd County. Located along the Sauk River, this pair of lakes is considered by fisheries personnel to be very underrated. In Washington County, the most recent net surveys have shown that Clear Lake has a very good walleye population, with fish reported to average in excess of 17 inches. Centerville Lake, found in Anoka County, is loaded with walleyes, and their average size of nearly 21 inches is exceptionally impressive. On the southern side of Minneapolis, Lake Harriet is increasing in popularity. The lake is regularly stocked with walleye fry, fingerlings, and yearlings. It is a good location for shore anglers, with fishing piers and plenty of shoreline access available. Moving to the south, Lake Winona is another shoreline-friendly fishery. Located within the city of Winona, the lake's walleyes are not exceptionally numerous, but their average size is very respectable.

There are also several rivers within the region that can kick out some beautiful walleyes. In any given year, the Mississippi River has the potential to produce some of the largest walleyes in our entire state. They are plentiful throughout this stretch of the river and should not be overlooked. Some of the heaviest fishing pressure occurs in and around Lake Pepin, near the town of Lake City, and that portion of the Mississippi River consistently produces walleyes of various sizes. The Cannon River, St. Croix River, and Rum River are just a few of the others in Region 3 that are likely to appear in fishing reports throughout the year.

The final region that we will look at is likely the most underrated. Consisting of the 32 counties that are found in south-central and southwest Minnesota, Region 4 is the home of our prairie potholes. These shallow and expansive lakes are prone to low oxygen levels in the winter; many of them have aeration systems in place to help alleviate the problem. The last widespread fish kill occurred in 2004. The lakes that were affected were immediately restocked and most have returned to form. Although some of the walleye lakes in southern Minnesota are capable of natural reproduction, a majority of them need to be regularly stocked in order to maintain a sizable walleye population. Where walleyes are able to spawn successfully, the same strong years that were noted in the northern part of the state are evident in the south. This abundance of natural walleyes, combined with continued stocking programs, makes this part of Minnesota an excellent destination in 2011.

Lake Elysian, found in Waseca County, was struck hard by the most recent winterkill. In the next four years, nearly 10 million walleye fry were released into the lake. These fish have now reached a desirable size and can be found in moderate numbers. There may not be too many really large walleyes coming out of Lake Elysian this year, but the bite should be fairly consistent. Albert Lea Lake is in a similar situation. This lake is located in Freeborn County and was also restocked during the same time span. However, it was determined that the kill was not as extensive as first feared and some of the adult walleyes were able to survive. Therefore, the lake is now loaded with young walleyes, in addition to some truly trophy fish. One southern pothole that did not suffer in 2004 is Lura Lake in Blue Earth County. This is a lake that can become weedy and difficult to fish during the summer, but is filled with walleyes that range in size from fingerlings to as large as 10 pounds.

The forecast is also looking good in the southwestern corner of Minnesota. According to Brian Schultz, assistant area supervisor of the Windom Fisheries Office, there are plenty of places to find walleyes. Based on net survey information and 2010 fishing reports, Schultz mentioned several lakes in the area that have a healthy walleye population. Lake Sarah and Lake Shetek, both within Murray County are on his list, as are Clear Lake and Round Lake, in Jackson County. In Cottonwood County, the walleye populations in Talcot Lake and Bingham Lake appear to be in good shape. The same is true of Lake Benton, in Lincoln County, and Lake Okabena, in Nobles County. "We offer some excellent fishing opportunities in the southwest," he said. "I think they are sometimes overlooked."

There are also several rivers to keep an eye on in Region 4. The Minnesota River does not usually draw a lot of attention, but it is an excellent walleye fishery as it flows through the area. Near Mankato, the Blue Earth River and Watonwan River are both good options early and late in the season. In the Faribault area, the Cannon River and its chain of lakes will produce a few nice walleyes.

While this forecast is intended to help you catch walleyes this season, practicing catch-and-release is one way to help these locations remain good options in the coming years. With that in mind, and now that we have finished looking over the scouting reports, there is only one thing left to do. Let's get out there and catch some walleyes!

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