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Cold, high water could play into walleye success on northern lakes

May 05, 2019 03:25PM ● By Editor

 By Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald - May 5, 2019

A later-than-normal ice-out, coupled with high water levels and cold water temperatures, could put a chill on angling prospects for the Minnesota Fishing Opener.

The grand springtime tradition gets underway at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 11.

"So far, we've got a little more water this spring than normal, the rivers are running a little higher than normal and the lakes bounced up some," said Henry Drewes, Northwest Region fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.

Across northwest Minnesota, ice-out is running three to seven days behind normal, Drewes said. Ice on Lake Bemidji went out Saturday, April 27—four days later than normal—he said, and border waters such as Lake of the Woods potentially could have some lingering ice for Saturday's opener.

"There'll probably still be some spawning going on in the northern lakes," he said. "WIth this (past) week's weather on top of a late ice-out, I would expect colder-than-normal water temperatures. I think there's going to be a lot of waters that are still in the 40s, and that could make for tough fishing."

Last year, ice covered much of Big Traverse Bay of Lake of the Woods a week before the fishing opener, but the onset of temperatures in the 60s and 70s left only a few icebergs by the time opening day arrived.

This year, no drastic warm-up is in the forecast from the un-springlike setback Mother Nature dealt this past week. In Baudette, Minn., for example, high temperatures this coming week aren't expected to exceed the mid 50s, with nighttime lows barely above freezing.

Still, hope springs eternal, as the old saying goes. Open water on Lake of the Woods as of midweek extended well past Lighthouse Gap near the mouth of the Rainy River, according to Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism.

"Reports are the ice is moving a lot right now, which leads us to believe it will go pretty quick," Henry said. "Only Mother Nature knows for sure, but we believe it will be ice-free by the opener."

The fish are there, but ...

Walleyes should be done spawning in Rainy River, a Lake of the Woods tributary, and the Tamarac River, which flows into Upper Red Lake, Drewes said.

As with most openers, male walleyes will dominate the catch as larger females recover from spawning, he said.

"Whether or not they're turned on will really depend on that three to five days of weather before the opener," Drewes said. "Get on a nice warming trend with above-freezing nights—that's really the trigger. Warm those shallows up and get those fish going."

Given the conditions, slow presentations will be crucial, especially on rivers such as the Rainy, which is flowing nearly three times faster than it was at this time last year, based on streamflow readings from the U.S. Geological Survey. As of midweek, the Rainy River at Manitou Rapids was running at 30,300 cubic feet per second, compared with 10,600 cfs on May 2, 2018.

"I would think with high flows and slightly later-than-normal spawn, there'll be fish in those rivers," Drewes said. "Even if they're done spawning, there's probably more forage available in those rivers if the lakes downstream still have ice or just recently lost ice. Those flowages are always good in the spring, but they're even better on late springs."

To read more of the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Grand Forks Herald website.

Read more about fishing closures in Cook County from the MN DNR below:


Media Release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - April 17, 2019

Anglers in Cook County will notice fishing closure signs at several area lakes this spring. These temporary closures are regularly enacted to protect concentrations of spawning walleye. Closures on Minnesota-Ontario waters are made in cooperation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and affect both sides of the border.

The following closures took effect April 1:

  • Sea Gull River from Sea Gull Lake through Gull Lake to Saganaga Lake approximately 1/3 mile north of the narrows; closed through May 24.
  • Saganaga Falls on the Minnesota‑Ontario border where the Granite River enters Saganaga Lake; closed through May 31.
  • Maligne River (also known as Northern Light Rapids) on the Ontario side of Saganaga Lake; closed through May 31 by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
  • Unnamed channel between Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes on the Minnesota‑Ontario border; closed through May 31.
  • Cross River (inlet to Gunflint Lake) from the Gunflint Trail to Gunflint Lake; closed through May 24

The following areas will be closed to fishing from May 11 through May 24:

  • Tait River from White Pine Lake to the Forest Road 340 crossing, including a portion of White Pine Lake.
  • Junco Creek from the first log dam above County Road 57 downstream to Devil Track Lake, and including a portion of Devil Track Lake near the river mouth.

Closures apply to fishing only; travel is permitted through these areas. All closed areas will be posted. The closures are intended to protect concentrations of spawning walleye that may be vulnerable to over-harvest.

Late ice-out is expected for Cook County lakes in 2019. Anglers and other visitors are urged to call ahead to check on ice conditions, or be prepared to look at alternative lakes for open water.  Shallow or dark-water (bog-stained) lakes are more likely to be open sooner than the county’s deeper, clear-water lakes.

Questions can be directed to the DNR fisheries office in Grand Marais at 218-387-6021, or to Steve Persons, Grand Marais area fisheries supervisor, at [email protected].

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