Fishing opener just around the corner

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 28, 2002

Having just graduated from winter to spring a month ago, it seems that there is a little confusion on old Mother Nature’s part as to which season is which. We were fortunate to have a very mild winter but now it doesn’t quite seem to want to let the next season get into full swing.

I guess the one word that best describes this scenario is &uot;Minnesota.&uot; That pretty much explains it all. One thing about living here is that if we can’t find anything else to complain about, the weather will always fill that void. Too hot, too cold, raining for days straight, too dry, fire hazard, temperature is just right but it’s so darned windy. Cool early summer nights are beautiful but those darned crickets keep chirping. We complain about it but still we put ourselves through it year after year. I have a feeling that the majority of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

Active Minnesotans almost always plan their leisure time around the outdoors. I doubt there is another state whose people pay as much attention to the weather forecast as we do.

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With this said, I guess it’s time to mention the reason for this column: fishing. With the opener only a couple of weeks from now it would be nice to have the ice off all the lakes so northern Minnesota won’t have an Ice Fishing Opener.

This year I will be attending the Governor’s Opener once again. It is in International Falls on Rainy Lake. Doesn’t get much farther north than that without leaving Minnesota.

From the reports I have seen most of the lakes are just about ice-free. Some of the larger lakes like Winnie, Lake of the Woods, Rainy and Leech still have some ice but the winds should have the ice pretty much broken up and gone in another week.

Spring is always a good time to think pan fish, especially crappies. Over the years I have seen some real nice crappie come out of our local lakes. A small hook, tipped with a minnow, a split shot and pencil bobberfrom shore can produce these tasty fish.

Everyone has his or her own method for crappie. An old friend of our family always told me the trick to fishing them is to cast out and reel in ever so slowly. With crappie a gentle steady pull or reeling just a little faster usually works best. Trying to set the hook like you are trying to snag a musky usually results in an empty hook.

A fish that seems overlooked these days is the bullhead. This time of year with the water still cold they can be mighty tasty.

When I was a kid growing up north of town I probably wouldn’t have kept fishing if it weren’t for this fish. Of all the fish we caught, the majority were bullheads. We caught some big ones too. I took many stingers in the finger while trying to get those fish off my hook. It seemed no matter how careful you were they would get you. As a kid you put up with a little inconvenience to reach the end result &045; catching fish. Kids don’t care what kind of fish they catch, just so they can catch one.

wasn’t that long ago that people used to line the shore of Pickerel Lake along Highway 69, just as soon as the ice was out, so they could catch bullheads. The cars would be lined all they way around the curve.

The fish were nice sized and plentiful and people were excited to catch them. I don’t think the numbers of bullheads in area lakes are as high as they used to be.

Lake Tetonka in Waterville is supposed to be the &uot;Bullhead Capital&uot; but the number of Bullheads I have seen caught has dropped drastically over the years.

My father-in-law was from Twin Lakes and always seemed to know where to go to catch fish. We fished crappie on Clear Lake in Waseca, northern in the creeks on the Minnesota side of State Line Road, bullheads in Lower Twin and caught some real nice ones. State Line Lake was another one where we had good early-season luck for bullheads. When my boys were small he took us to a friend’s pond and we caught these huge yellow-bellied bullheads that I couldn’t believe. My oldest son still talks about that from time to time.

It’s not always the kind of fish you remember but the fun you had catching them.

There are times when a bullhead is not on your priority list.

While on a fishing trip up north one fall, my father-in-law asked if I would like to go to Federal Dam and try launch fishing with him. I agreed, so the next morning we set out on the drive from Big Sand Lake where we were staying, to Federal Dam on Winnie.

In those days a seat belt was optional and most of the time you opted to not use it. As we were driving along, a black bear appeared in the road out of the ditch right in front of us, my father-in-law slammed on the brakes and we stopped. I almost went through the windshield. As we started to accelerate again that darned bear started running right alongside the car. He was so close I could have rolled down the window and slapped his backside, except for one thing. I was too busy buckling up my seat belt. That story was told at every family gathering for many years.

The icing on the cake was the four-hour launch ride in the wind and rain only to bring in my trophy catch; a 2-pound bullhead. Only fish I caught that day. This was the other half of the bear story told at every family gathering.

Remember to use all the resources we have available to us right here in our area, but don’t abuse them, so everyone has a chance to enjoy them in years to come.