The fishing opener is coming around the corner

Published 6:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2015

Column: Woods & Water, by Dick Herfindahl

The opening of the state walleye season is fast approaching, and — as I have for the past 20 years — I am anxiously anticipating attending the Governor’s Fishing Opener.

This year’s event will be held on Lake Vermillion and will be hosted by the Minnesota Department of Tourism and some of the Lake Vermilion area residents.

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On every opener, I look forward to seeing old acquaintances and making new ones. This year will be a little different because my friend, Jeff Anderson of Watertown, South Dakota, will not be attending. We have been fishing together on the opener for several years, so it will seem a little different without him being there. If I catch any fish worth mentioning I will have to make sure that I let him know.

Each year, a different location is chosen to host this event and promote their particular area of the state. When an area is chosen to host this event it is not without a lot of hard work by area volunteers. They work hand in hand with the fine folks from the department of tourism to make their event special. The objective is to promote Minnesota tourism as a whole and bring vacationers to their area of the state.

Lake Vermilion itself is a large, beautiful body of water that offers great fishing and just about anything that a person would want for outdoor recreation.

Over the years I have fished many different lakes on the opener, and each area has its own unique personality. I can’t really say which opener was my favorite because each one had something different to offer. If I judged each one by number of fish caught, I would only have a handful to pick from. I can’t remember ever being totally skunked on an opener, but there have been some lean times when even catching a perch seemed like an accomplishment.

Fishing the opener in Bemidji was definitely the coldest one I can remember with Park Rapids right behind because we fished a lake that still had ice on half of it.

Of all the openers that I personally remember fondly, it had to be Crane Lake, not only for its magnificent beauty but for the experience. The host that Jeff and I fished with that particular day took us on an 80-mile adventure. He showed us the native drawings on the face of cliffs and told about much of the history of the lake. He then asked if we wanted to see more of the area.

On this particular day, there was a rain-snow mix coming down with an occasional blast of corn snow peppering us. He had a cover on his 22-foot Crestliner boat so we were pretty much out of the elements when we headed out across Crane Lake into Namakan Lake and across to Kettle Falls where we portaged into the Rainy River. To me, seeing all of that beautiful wilderness was the experience of a lifetime. The day was topped off when the sun greeted us upon our return to Crane Lake where we fished at the mouth of the Vermilion River. I was rewarded by being able to land a nice walleye at days end. I have often wondered, “What if we had fished there all day instead of doing what we did? Would we have caught our limit?”

Looking back, I wouldn’t have traded the experience that I had that day for two limits of walleye. There are times when the outdoor experience means much more than just catching fish, and this was one of those times.

If waiting until May 9, for the walleye opener seems like an exercise in extreme patience, an entirely different type of fishing can be found after a short hike to the bank of a southeastern Minnesota trout stream.

“The Minnesota stream trout opener was this past Saturday, April 18, and the southeastern part of the state is an angler’s paradise for anyone willing to park the boat and do some walking and wading,” said Vaughn Snook, Lanesboro assistant area fisheries manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The area has more than 700 miles of designated trout streams.”

Anglers can find all three of Minnesota’s trout species in southeastern streams: brook trout, the only native species; brown trout, the most abundant, with reports of 30-inch monsters caught each year; and rainbow trout, stocked in catchable sizes where angling pressure is high.

Places to fish in the southeast also are ample. With 221 miles of angler easements — land along streams that’s privately owned but open for fishing — access to trout streams is readily available. State parks such as Whitewater, Forestville Mystery Cave and Beaver Creek Valley also provide quality cold-water angling opportunities.

The DNR published a booklet of maps highlighting where to access streams in the southeast. The maps also are available online by clicking on southern Minnesota maps.

I had a person ask me if you could keep crappies and sunfish now, and if so, why is it called the opener when it is only for walleye and northern? I told her that perch, crappie, sunfish and bullhead are open year-round. That was actually a good question, and with different seasons for different species and with all the different slot limits for different lakes I can see where someone could get confused.

Until next time, it’s a great time to catch some of those tasty panfish and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.