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Super seven for the fishing opener

May 7, 2012

by Chris Schultz

A guy who has had more time to fish, and wet a line on our local lakes, should probably be writing this portion of the column.

As time goes on, and the years go by, it seems I have less and less time to spend fishing.

For this version of the Super Seven area lakes for the opener, I’m going way back to when I was a kid fishing with my Dad in our 14-foot Lowe Line with a Johnson 6.5 horse on the back.

We spent many openers on local lakes listening to that Johnson putter while we trolled for northern and walleye.

I’ve traveled through those memories and have based this years Super Seven on my best opening days of fishing on local lakes.

1) Lake John south of Annandale – I’ve caught more opening day fish on John then any other lake in the area.
In the mid 80s, John was an opening day must for our boat.
Trolling with Rapalas or still fishing with a sucker minnow did the trick.

2) Lake Jenny north of Hutchinson – I remember my long-time hunting buddy and bother-in-law landing a nifty 7-plus pound walleye at Jenny on an opening day back in the late 70s.
Of course, after that fish we spent quite a bit of time on Jenny and the fishing was good.
Drifting across the sand bar on the north side with fatheads is good bet on Jenny.

3) Lake Ann south of Howard Lake – In the spring of 1981 the big sunfish on Ann, and I mean big, bit like crazy.
Because of that sunfish bite, we headed to Ann for the opener with the idea that if the walleyes didn’t bite we’d go in search of those big sunfish.
We didn’t find the walleyes, however we did nail the big sunnies and my Dad landed a dandy 8 pound northern on an orange gold Daredevil.
He was so proud of that fish he hung the Daredevil in our garage – I still have that Daredevil today.
The best bet for opening day fish on Ann is on the rock bar near the middle of the lake or casting crank baits on the windy shoreline.

4) French Lake north of Dassel – For a few years, sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, French was an opening weekend hot spot for small, great eating, walleye.
On a miserable, windy, rainy, and cold opening day, we nabbed our limit of walleye.
If my memory was better I’d tell you more about French.

5) Moose Lake also north of Dassel – For many years moose was the second lake we would hit for the opener.
At that time the lake didn’t have a public access, but the cost to land a boat I believe was around two bucks that you stuck in can that was nailed to a tree close to the landing.
The opening day, especially in the middle of the afternoon, action on northern pike was great.
I remember my Dad and brother with several doubles while trolling with spoons on Moose.

6) Hook Lake northeast of Hutchinson – We only got luck one year, but on one opening day at dusk the walleyes turned on and four of us in that small 14 foot boat had no trouble catching our limit.
We jigged in shallow water on the north end of the island closest to the landing.
I remember pulling in some dandy sunfish in-between walleyes.

7) Lake Waconia where Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is set to fish on the opener this year – Several times on the opener, well after dark, we have caught some dandy walleye casting with Rapalas in shallow water just off the high clay bank on the east side of the lake.
I wouldn’t do it this year because of all the hoopla.
Actually, I’ll be among the crew of anglers with the governor’s contingent fishing Waconia on the opener. I’m hoping to be one of the anglers that catches a fish.

Good luck fishing on this year’s opener and I hope it’s one that provides some fishing memories that last a lifetime.

Early ice-out: What does it mean for the walleye opener?
From the DNR

Mike Duval of Brainerd and Tom Jones of Aitkin are Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries biologists.

They work extensively on fish habitat issues.

In the interview below, they discuss this spring’s early ice-out, and what it means for fish behavior and fishing patterns.

Minnesota lakes became ice free very early this year. Was this a fluke or part of a larger pattern?

Duval: Early ice-out is occurring around the globe. What Minnesota experienced this year is part of a larger global pattern.
Earlier ice-out dates have been observed throughout the Midwest, continental US and more broadly in Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, and Japan.

John Magnuson, a limnologist, and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology in Madison, have concluded that the length of time that lakes in the northern hemisphere are ice-covered has become shorter.

When did this pattern develop?

Duval: According to Magnuson’s research, the average ice-out date for Minnesota lakes has been occurring earlier and earlier over the past three decades.

Ice-out in Minnesota is occurring approximately three to five days earlier every 10 years in the central part of the state and nearly a week earlier per decade for southwestern Minnesota

So does that mean spring is coming earlier to Minnesota lakes?

Duval: That’s basically correct. The mid-April ice break-up has advanced northward nearly 100 miles over the past three decades.

The east-to-west mid-April ice break-up line used to cut through the Montrose area. Today it’s closer to Brainerd.

At this rate, by the end of this decade spring will come to Minnesota lakes nearly a month earlier than it did 40 years ago.

What are the implications of early ice out?

Duval: It will mean a variety of things: longer open water periods, warmer water temperatures, more evaporation, and more inter-mixing of lake water because the ice “lid” that capped the lake will have been removed for a longer period of time.

Over time, Minnesota waters and their fish populations will tend to be more characteristic of states to the south of us.

Will warmer water improve or reduce fishing quality?

Jones: That depends. Temperature is a limiting factor for many fish species and, thus, a critical component of their habitat.

Clearly, warmer water temperatures will be detrimental to tullibee, lake trout and other species that depend on cold water.

Tullibee, for example, could disappear in the next few decades from some southern and central Minnesota lakes due to a combination of higher water temperatures higher in the top portion of the water column, and insufficient oxygen in the lower portion of the water column where temperatures are cooler.

On the other hand, bass will do just fine because they can tolerate warmer water temperatures.

In fact, bass abundance is already increasing across Minnesota.

Growth rates should improve as well because of longer growing seasons.

Overall, the early ice-out trend will create winners and losers, depending on the temperature habitat requirements of each particular species.

What’s the long-term forecast for walleye and northern pike?

Jones: In northern Minnesota lakes, higher water temperatures may benefit walleye and northern pike by increasing the length of the growing season.

However, in southern lakes, temperatures may become too warm and lead to periods of mid-summer stress.

If this stress becomes too severe, fish weights could decrease and walleye mortality could increase.

How will the early ice-out in 2012 affect walleyes this year?

Jones: For walleye, early ice-outs can lead to poor year classes.

The early start for walleyes means that they often hatch before their food supply develops.

After walleye absorb their yolk sacs, they depend on zooplankton for forage.

If the water is not sufficiently warm, zooplankton will not be present in large numbers, and many of the young walleye can starve.

The cool weather this April increases the chance that zooplankton abundance will be low when walleyes hatch this year.

What about impacts to bass and sunfish?

Jones: Bass and sunfish species depend on a good spring warm-up to spawn.

Bass spawn when temperatures reach the low 60s, usually in late May or early June.

In very cool years, they may not spawn at all if the water does not get warm enough in time.

While early ice-outs don’t guarantee that aquatic processes occur very early, they do increase the likelihood that bass and sunfish will be able to spawn in time to have an adequately long growing season.

Did early ice-out affect DNR operations this spring?

Jones: The early spring meant fisheries crews set up walleye egg take sites a week earlier than ever before.

However, because of the cool spring, the walleye egg takes peaked and ended at about average dates.

The extra time of cool, open water also allowed fisheries crews to harvest “carryover” walleye from some of last year’s walleye rearing ponds.

Removal of the carryover fish amounted to more than 12,000 pounds of walleye stocking spread over dozens of lakes, and also will increase survival of fry raised in these ponds this summer.

Do you think this will be a “normal” opener?

Jones: Opening success varies from year to year and that will be true this year, too.

Walleye, like most gamefish, exhibit seasonal changes in behavior and distribution.

Walleye spawn within a few weeks of ice-out, when water temperatures are in the low 40s.

After spawning they tend to remain in shallow water for a few weeks, feeding on minnows and other small fish.

As water temperatures warm, walleye tend to gradually migrate into deeper water.

The ice went out early, but cool April weather has prevented water temperatures from rising quickly.

As we speak, about one month after Mille Lacs Lake opened, and about two days after average ice-out, water temperatures in Mille Lacs are still in the low 40s, about 3 degrees warmer than average and only about six days ahead of average.

On the other hand, in 2010, ice-out occurred April 5, and temperatures by the end of April were 50 degrees.

My point is that the fish behavior around opening day depends not just on ice-out dates, but also on weather after ice-out.
Walleye fishing for the 2012 opener probably won’t be as advanced as anglers might expect given the early ice-outs.

So where would you fish?

Jones: My sense is that many walleye and pike will probably still be in their traditional early season locations on the 2012 opener.

I would start there, but be prepared to try a little deeper if fishing is slow.

Duval: I agree. While walleye may be a little further along than usual, the April weather has kept lakes cool, so most of the walleye will be close to where anglers usually find them on opener.

Do you think the fishing opener will move to an earlier date sometime in the future?

Duval: Climate change is a long-term process that cannot be determined based on short-term weather patterns.

Biologically, our agency’s interest is delaying the opening date until walleye and northern pike have completed spawning and have begun to disperse from spawning areas.

The timing of spawning is based on both day length and water temperature, so it is uncertain how much of a shift would occur based on water temperature alone.

Any future changes in the opener date should only occur based on scientific monitoring and documented long-term trends.

We want to ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries.

Fishing connected me to nature, can help nurture your kids, too
By Tom Landwehr, DNR

As I reflect on things that have shaped who I am, I realize that it is many things and many people, but also that fishing played a major role.

I was fortunate my dad, an avid fisherman, exposed me to fishing at a very young age.

I still remember dragging a plastic grasshopper along the canoe as he paddled the St. Croix some 50 years ago.

I remember summers spent fishing White Bear Lake, near where my cousins lived, and using snails to catch cookie-sized sunfish.

And I remember many weekends with extended family at Bayport or some metro lake where we’d wade in shallow water to entice other fish.

Dad died when I was very young, and mom did her best to raise six youngsters to become responsible adults.

Even with her stern hand, there were plenty of avenues for a city kid to go astray.

It was easier to be delinquent than not. I still wonder how I survived my more “irresponsible” years.

I know, however, that fishing connected me with nature and the web of life.

Fishing allowed me – at least for short periods of time – to see and explore a world outside the urban core and connect with friends in wholesome endeavors.

That was a good thing. I also enjoyed eating the fish I caught – and still do today – and eventually became interested in hunting during my adolescence.

Ultimately, a passion for fishing and hunting led me to college degrees and a career in wildlife management.

It is true to say those childhood experiences profoundly shaped my life.

So as I look to the Minnesota fishing opener, and as I take my own kids and the kids of others out to enjoy that day, I realize it is more than just fun on the water.

Kids are easily hooked on fishing, especially when it is done at their pace.

Fostering and nurturing a passion for fishing can give kids skills that shape their lives in remarkable and unpredictable ways.

A love of fishing gets kids outdoors, builds confidence through learning, and teaches them empathy for the natural world.

It provides a lifelong activity and connections with many friends over the years.

It lets young people see nature’s beauty and envision their role in keeping it intact.

So, as you look forward to the fishing season, I encourage you to find a child and get a fishing rod in his or her hand.

You will never regret introducing a kid to this sport.

You will be shaping a life in unknowable but positive directions. So do it for them and yourself.

MN state parks offer a fishing opener for everyone
From the DNR

No one should feel left out when talk turns – as it does this time of year – to plans for the big Minnesota fishing opener.

Any state resident who wants to participate in that annual rite of spring can now do so easily and for free at most Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.

Minnesota residents no longer need a license when shore-fishing at most lakes within Minnesota state parks.

A change in state law, which went into effect in July 2009, made the free fishing possible.

Other rules and regulations apply, such as the legal limit of fish that can be caught.

Details, including a map showing where to find the free fishing opportunities, can be found online at mndnr.gov (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/fishing.html).

In addition to stocking Minnesota lakes and streams with fish, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also stocks parks with fishing kits that visitors can borrow for free.

The fishing kits, which include a pole and tackle, are now available at 30 state parks.

Check out the list of where to find free loaner equipment (also including GPS units, binoculars and bird guides, and activities for kids) at mndnr.gov (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/loaner.html).

For those who lack experience or want to improve their fishing skills, Minnesota state parks provide free I Can Fish! programs throughout the spring and summer.

These hands-on learning opportunities cover fish identification, casting, knot-tying and more.

Fishing gear is provided for use during the programs.

Fishing licenses are not required.

Experienced anglers demonstrate skills and then give participants plenty of time to practice.

Check the online calendar at www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/can_fish.html for a complete schedule.

For tips on fishing with families and a list of 10 parks with especially good fishing opportunities, visit mndnr.gov or call the DNR Information Center, (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Boaters play key role in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging boaters to take more responsibility in stopping the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS).

“In the past our boating recreation messages were largely safety oriented, which is still important, but more than ever preventing the spread of AIS has become a top DNR priority,” said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director. “We are urging boaters to take extra care when launching and loading watercraft to stop the spread of harmful AIS in Minnesota’s waterways.”

Minnesota’s water resources are threatened by numerous aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.

These species could be easily spread within the state if citizens, businesses and visitors don’t take responsible steps to contain them.

“Overland transport of boats, motors, trailers and other watercraft poses the greatest risk for spreading aquatic invasive species and by taking some simple precautions citizens can minimize the risk,” said Konrad.

To help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, boaters are required by law to:

• Clean visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other prohibited species off of watercraft, trailers and equipment before leaving any water access

• Drain water from the boats bilge, livewell, motor, ballast tanks and portable bait containers before leaving any water access or shoreline property.

• Keep drain plug out and water draining devices open while transporting watercraf.

Minnesota law prohibits the possession or transport of any AIS in Minnesota. Conservation officers and other qualified peace officers may stop, inspect, and, if necessary, detain watercraft upon a “reasonable belief” that AIS are present.

“We are asking boaters to take personal responsibility and develop a routine before and when leaving a waterway to help reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species,” Konrad said.

“Remember, these are your lakes, and once they are infested, they are infested. There’s no ready cure. There’s no turning back. Hold yourself accountable as the first line of defense in the battle against AIS.”

For more information on aquatic invasive species and how to prevent their spread, please visit: www.mndnr.gov/invasives

CO weekley reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) attended training.
CO Mies also checked turkey hunters and anglers. CO Mies checked ATVs.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) followed up on several angling complaints.
Reller also checked turkey hunters in the area and most were seeing birds and harvesting their turkey in the first two seasons.
Reller also attended in service at Camp Ripley.  

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) checked turkey hunters all week who were having very good success.
State trails and parks were patrolled.
Anglers were checked all week on area lakes and rivers.
Enforcement action was taken for litter, possession of marijuana, angling for trout in designated trout lake during closed season and taking northern pike during closed season.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) responded to several calls about illegal fishing activity in Hennepin County.
She assisted CO Salzer with an interview about an individual taking an otter out of season.
She attended a meeting about invasive species with a local media outlet and assisted local deputies with a boat and water safety event in Carver County.
Several invasive species violations were encountered around Lake Minnetonka.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) completed his Use of Force instructor program at the St. Paul Police Department. 
CO Oberg also spoke to several firearms safety and ATV classes. 
Angling enforcement was also worked in the area.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling, boating, and turkey hunting activity.
Additional time was spent attending required training, and investigating possible WCA violations.
Hatlestad also investigated a litter violation.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: I saw a bluebird in my backyard this week. Do I still have time to put up a bluebird house? And which direction should it face?

A: Yes, you still have time to put up a bluebird house.

Although many bluebirds are already nesting in Minnesota, it is not too late to provide them with a nest box.

Bluebirds that have not nested yet or whose nests might have failed will also use the boxes.

The boxes should face an open field with a clear flight path to the box.

Bluebirds prefer open, grassy areas where they can easily watch for predators.