ON WILD RICE LAKE RESERVOIR — The day couldn’t have started any nicer, warm and sunny, the kind of rare Minnesota fishing opener weather that can let you forget about a long, cold winter and non-existent spring.
And the fact the fish were biting made it even better.
Joe Ranva and his friend, Kailey Engstrom, both of Duluth, landed their spot at 5 a.m. where the Beaver River was spilling out of this lake just north of Duluth.
Like every other lake and river in the Northland, the water was high and fast, but the duo were catching walleye, perch and northern pike using small jigs tipped with plastic worms or paddle tails.
“There are a ton of pike in here, coming up from Fish Lake,’’ Ranva said. “And some walleyes too. It’s been pretty good.”
Ranva was casting his jig along the line where the fast current turned to slack water, and that’s usually where he got bit.
“A lot of the pike have scars on their backs from spawning. They’ll bite each other while they’re spawning,’’ Ranva noted.
The anglers were keeping a few fish for a meal and throwing most of their fish back, soaking in the sunshine and the quiet morning with geese honking, red-winged blackbirds singing and a few nearby loons and swans adding their songs. A wild turkey even ambled by, Engstrom noted.
And of course the fishing opener is a chance to re-stock the larder with some fillets.
“I haven’t had fresh fish in a while so this is going to be great,’’ Ranva said. “Nothing beats fresh fish.”
Just across the road, on the other side of the dam, Dennis Johnson of Duluth and his buddy, Kevin Scanlon of Carlton, were trying to catch crappies out of the lake. It was a good looking spot for early season crappies, with a dark, muddy bottom, cattails along the shore and a shallow bay that warms up faster than the rest of the lake.
“They were here yesterday. But not today. Maybe it’s too nice today,’’ Johnson quipped, although he did land a nice 12-inch crappie a bit later.
Johnson was in waders, Scanlon in hip boots, so they could wade into the muck a bit to cast.
“I’d be fishing steelhead right now on the North Shore but there’s just way too much water in those rivers,’’ Johnson noted.
Scanlon said he couldn’t remember a nicer fishing opener.
“Seven-thirty in the morning on a Minnesota fishing opener and you don’t even need a jacket on,’’ Scanlon noted. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
Just down the shoreline, Justin Bye of Duluth carried a pile of gear from his car and set up along a gravelly stretch of water. He looked like he was planning to stay for a while, with a five-gallon bucket to sit on, landing net, five fishing rods, a giant tackle box, two bait buckets and a bag of snacks and beverages.
“I might be here all day. If they’re biting,’’ Bye said.
Bye wasn’t five minutes into his new season when he landed a 25-inch northern pike. A few minutes later he landed a plump largemouth bass.
“I don’t have a boat so I fish from shore a lot,’’ Bye noted.
Especially early in the season, when the fish are still shallow, shore fishing can be as productive — or even more so — than fishing from a boat.
“I walk around a lot so I can still try lots of different locations,’’ said Bye, who was using a castable Bluetooth depth finder tied to a heavy line on one of his rod-and-reel setups. The little orb, about the size of a baseball, sent a signal to his phone that looked like a fish finder screen, showing the depth and anything that swam below it.
“It helps sometimes,’’ Bye said.
By 8 a.m. Bye had settled in, trying new lures, keeping a fresh chub minnow on his big pike hook.
There would be more fish to come all summer long, of course. But there’s only one fishing opener, and Bye wasn’t going to miss it.
“A good start to the morning,’’ Bye said as he released a pike. “A good start to the fishing season.”
St. Louis River raging
The St. Louis River at Scanlon was full and overflowing Saturday morning, reaching 11.23 feet, a moderate flood stage. That compares to just about four feet on last year’s fishing opener. The river flow Saturday reached 22,800 cubic feet per second compared to just 1,650 on the same day last year.
Some anglers fishing in the St. Louis River estuary in Duluth, below the Fond du Lac dam, reported it was nearly impossible to keep even a heavy jig near the bottom, and that the current was so strong that it was like speed trolling downstream. Other anglers said big chunks of wood and debris, even entire trees, were coming down from upstream.
Too much water was a problem across the Northland, with North Shore streams overflowing their banks and raging at rates local residents said they had never seen before, washing out roads and bridges.
Along the Minnesota/Ontario border, the Rainy River watershed is flooding from Lake Vermilion north to Lake of the Woods with a flood warning issued across the region.
Governor Walz did well
Famed Grand Rapids fishing guide Tom Neustrom reports that Gov. Tim Walz caught a nice fish on the opener while fishing Lake Winnibigoshish, a 21-inch walleye, as did Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. It’s reportedly the first time a governor’s fishing opener event has been held on Big Winnie.
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