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Quality Bait and Tackle owner John Store scoops up a handful of leeches in his store Wednesday morning. The bait shop was waiting for a large delivery of shiner minnows Wednesday morning in preperation of Saturday's fishing opener. (DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham)

Signs point to good Minnesota fishing opener

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DETROIT LAKES, MN - Things are looking good for this year's fishing opener on Saturday - the ice has been off area lakes for about two weeks, the shiners have started to run, crappies are biting - and people are eager to get out on the open water after a long, cold winter.

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"It's definitely better than last year," said Quality Bait & Tackle owner John Store. "They're talking 47 degrees (water temperature) on the opener. Last year it was probably 32."

Last year, the ice officially left Detroit Lake on Sunday, May 12 - the day after the fishing opener, according to the DNR. It started breaking up the night before the opener.

This year, ice-out on Detroit Lake was on April 26, and earlier on some lakes, like Howe, which occurred April 21 this year, according to the DNR.

The bait of choice for walleye fishing this year will probably be shiners, Store said.

"I predict a good opener," he added. "The shiners are just starting to run -- shallower lakes with black-bottom bays will produce first, and it sounds like on Saturday the sun might even shine."

Fatheads and small sucker minnows could also be popular, depending on conditions. "Leeches are coming in, but coming in slow," he said.

The biggest problem is money," he added. "People do not have money - we're still in a depression as far as I'm concerned. All the poor people, they don't have anything. It really hurts."

The Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes is expecting a big weekend, both from the fishing opener and from Mother's Day diners in its restaurant, which opens at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.

"It doesn't fill the hotel, but it's a nice little shot in the arm," said manager Doug Anselmin. "Everybody is anxious to go out and start the fishing opener."

With a public access right next door, the hotel is in a good position to serve anglers, he added.

"We're trying to compete for those who want to be on the water first-thing," he said.

The fishing opener is usually good for the lakes area, said Detroit Lakes regional Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston.

"We always see a definite increase in traffic," she said, and it being Mother's Day weekend there are a lot of people who come to do both.

The city is ready for summer visitors, she added.

"Now we have open water, it looks great - the city beach is groomed and it looks so inviting, the docks are starting to come out. It just looks so great - we're ready for summer."

The walleye and northern opener starts at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Area fishing guide Brad Laabs expects an active pan fish bite going in shallow water during the first couple weeks of the opener.

"Look for the crappies to be in shallow water bays that hold weed cover, north shoreline areas, darker stained shallow water lakes, as these areas warm first," he wrote in a recent newspaper column. "These warmer water areas also draw baitfish and provide areas for crappies and sunfish to spawn. You will make contact with northern pike and bass in these areas also."

Bass season doesn't open until May 24 in this area.

Locating walleyes for opener will depend on what happens with the weather, Laabs says.

"If Mother Nature starts warming the water, spot tail shiners will come to shallow flats for their spawning turn. Shiners become very vulnerable to walleyes looking for easy pickings of a high protein meal. If the shiners are shallow, the walleye will be shallow. If the lakes stay as cool as they are now, many of the schools of shiners are laying off the sharp breaks in deeper water waiting to come up and do their thing. The walleyes will be close by."

He said he has caught opening day walleyes in 4 feet of water and has been on active fish as deep as 24 feet of water.

Water temperatures and food are the big keys to finding the fish.

"Many times, it will depend on the lake you choose," Laabs says. "Lakes that are ice-free early will tend to warm more quickly, as will darker shallow lakes and lakes with current areas. Lakes that have inlets and outlets of rivers and creeks will have warmer water in those river delta areas as well as a supply of baitfish that will draw walleyes. The deeper clearer lakes will tend to have fish deeper and off the breaks until they warm."

Lakes that are ice free early will also develop early weed growth. Weed pockets and edges are fish holding areas and the baitfish love to use them for cover to hide from the predator fish that want to eat them.

Shiners can be one of the best baits until early June. Leeches and night crawlers also can work well, "so it never hurts to have all of the baits in your arsenal."

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