Morning Edition

What to know about Saturday’s fishing opener in Minnesota

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan fishes on Fountain Lake in Albert Lea during the 2019 Governor's Fishing Opener.
Colleen Harrison | Albert Lea Tribune

About half a million anglers are expected to cast their first fishing lines of the season during Saturday’s Minnesota fishing opener. Bennet Stich isn’t one of them.

Instead, the co-owner of Ben’s Bait Shop in Battle Lake, will be serving lines of people eager to get out on one of Otter Tail County’s more than 1,000 lakes.

“It’s probably one of the top four weekends of the summer, to be honest,” Stich said. “We get people from all over, you know, wanting to get that elusive bite of the walleye going. We have guys that go out right at midnight.”

How will our warm winter affect fishing?

This year, they can expect that bite to come a bit more easily. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says a warm winter and early thaw makes for hungry walleye.

While that could make for fun fishing in the short term, Gretchen Hansen, assistant professor in the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Department at the University of Minnesota, warns that ongoing warm winters could lead to reduced fish populations overall.

Young anglers learn how to fish at the kids' fishing event in Albert Lea.
Young anglers learn how to fish at the kids' fishing event hosted by the DNR in Albert Lea.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources | 2019

Where’s the best place to fish?

But DNR fisheries managers are optimistic for the season ahead, predicting healthy fish populations and the potential for prize-worthy fish in all corners of the state.

Their regional fishing outlooks offer lake-specific forecasts and tips.

In Otter Tail County, Stich said the abnormal winter makes it harder for him to predict the best fishing spots.

“I think it’s going to be kind of really lake-dependent this year on, you know, water temps and that kind of thing,” he said. “So, you know, we’ll just have to wait and see what what everybody does.”

But he said a good rule of thumb is to stick the shallower — therefore, warmer — lakes at the start of the season.

Where will the governor be?

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan are going to try their luck at Lake Pepin in southeast Minnesota.

The annual Governor’s Fishing Opener kicks off with tours and events Friday, including a community celebration with a water ski show and music from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Ohuta Park and Beach.

Gov. Tim Walz poses for a picture
Gov. Tim Walz poses for a picture before the 2019 Governor's Fishing Opener launch ceremony at Edgewater Park in Albert Lea.
Colleen Harrison | Albert Lea Tribune

This year, the lieutenant governor has added a women’s fishing event to the Friday agenda.

On Saturday, they’ll participate in an 8 a.m. launch ceremony at Lake City Marina, followed by fishing and a shore lunch with other anglers.

What else is there to know?

For Minnesotans wanting to join in the fun, be sure to get a license for anyone 16 and older. Moms, however, get a weekend-long reprieve from that requirement thanks to the state’s Take a Mom Fishing Weekend program.

It’s also important to check regulations based on region and fish species, including whether you must catch and release.

If you are able to take your bounty home for a fish fry, check out the state’s fish consumption guidelines and this video on how to clean a walleye.

And think beyond walleye. The opener is also the start of fishing season for northern pike, bass, sauger and more. There’s also a movement to get anglers and state government to be more appreciative of so-called rough fish, including redhorse suckers, bigmouth buffalo and gar. Read about it here.

And the final thing to know: Have fun.

a boy happily holds a fish
Christopher Winter holds a freshwater drum fish next to the Minnesota River.
Courtesy of Tyler Winter

Even though he’ll be stuck behind a counter, bait shop owner Stich said there will be plenty to enjoy.

“It’s just one of those things where it’s kind of like your initial rite of passage to summer. And for me, it’s just about seeing everybody back again, you know, talking, doing a little BSing and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “So for me, the camaraderie is more than actually … dipping the line in the water, so to speak.”