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4:47 p.m.: Native rough fish top of mind

The Root River Roundup on Saturday bringing anglers together at Eagle Cliff Campground in Lanesboro was an opportunity to continue to change the narrative around native rough fish. New state legislation moving through will help protect and manage 23 species, such as bowfin, gar and redhorses.

3:06 p.m.: Lined up at 'Winnie'

Lake Winnibigoshish, aka "Winnie," was as busy Saturday on the first day of the walleye season perhaps as it's ever been. Boats were lined up at launches early to be dropped into the big lake. Fishing was slow to OK to pretty good, depending on where anglers fished and whether they were using shiners for bait, which were in short supply.

Tight quarters on Lake Winnibigoshish, in northern Minnesota, on Saturday's fishing opener.
Tight quarters on Lake Winnibigoshish, in northern Minnesota, on Saturday's fishing opener.

Dennis Anderson

At Ft. Snelling State Park: Interpretative naturalist Kao Thao used the opener to educate on the use of a seine (pronounced SAYN), or long net, to aid fish research and only allowed for use by the DNR and for scientific purposes. A single drag of a 50-foot net captured about 100 fish: yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegills and pumpkinseed, Thao said. All were about 1 to 3 years old. High water made good river spots inaccessible at the park, so the netting program was at the lake, which holds fewer species.

2 p.m.: Thousands float on Upper Red Lake

Upper Red Lake, with its waters calm and cool, drew an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 boats by noon. Robyn Dwight, president of the Upper Red Lake Area Association, said she and her husband, Brian, caught at least six walleyes in the morning and kept four.

"People are having to work for them, so it's not a massacre,'' she said. "But that's a good thing.''

Dwight said boaters were in good spirits throughout the morning and some local residents were enjoying a break from their fight against nascent state legislation that would award much state-owned land in the area to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

"Everyone's happy. It's beautiful out,'' she said. "It's nice just to be able to sit on the lake and relax. There was just enough breeze to rock our boat and put me to sleep.'''

1:15 p.m.: Water levels are mixed

Water levels varied around the state, including rivers high on their banks in far southern Minnesota to below-normal levels in the far north. In International Falls, Voyageurs National Park staff announced Friday that hazard markers, buoys and other navigational aids were in place in the park's four main lakes: Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan and Sand Point. "Low water levels may create unmarked hazards that are not typically visible during high-water periods,'' park officials said in a news release.

1:07 p.m.: Finding fish in the Alexandria area

DNR conservation officer Mitch Lawler is patrolling lakes, where anglers were out in droves. Lake Emily, near Cyrus, for example, has a gravel parking lot that holds about a dozen boat trailers. Lawler counted another 51 trailer rigs parked along adjacent roads.

"People are finding some fish,'' said Lawler, one of four conservation officers assigned to a new DNR Marine Unit. "I've been counting fish since the beginning of the day.''

On Emily, smaller walleyes were the story in the morning. But by noon, anglers were starting to catch keepers in the range of 15 to 16 inches, he said.

"Lots of people are out," he said. "It's kind of that bluebird, sunny day."

12:35 p.m.: Walz gets his walleye

Gov. Tim Walz said he caught about a 15-inch walleye soon after hitting Lake Pepin after 9 a.m. Guided by Jason Lorenson in the northern reaches of the big lake, the governor was fishing with House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and state Sen. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul.

They all caught at least one walleye while trolling with bottom bouncers and leeches, but Hortman earned bragging rights with a 22-incher that they returned to the lake. Walz said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan caught a 19-incher in a separate boat. The group broke for lunch, on shore, about noon.

"The whole weekend has been great,'' Walz said. "You almost feel guilty it's so nice outside.''

12:30 p.m.: From Minnetonka and Mille Lacs

On Lake Minnetonka: DNR conservation officer Kylan Hill said boat traffic was high, with anglers everywhere. By noon, lots of pleasure crafts were mixing into the scene under bright sunshine and very little wind.

Hill didn't see any walleyes being caught while checking boats on Saturday morning. Most anglers were either fishing for crappies or catching and releasing bass. After low-water conditions plagued boaters last fall, it's nice to see water levels on Minnetonka back to normal, Hill said.

"The crappie bite has been consistent here for two months,'' he said. "I've seen limits of crappies caught today but not a single walleye.''

He said boaters will notice a heavy law enforcement presence this weekend on Minnetonka, where conservation officers and sheriff's deputies saw "too many'' safety violations. Two common problem areas are missing life jackets and throwable flotation devices.

"If you're going out, brush up on the fishing laws, know the bag limits and keep your ducks in a row,'' Hill said.

On Lake Mille Lacs: Conservation officer Joe Scholz worked along the south end before heading up the east side. He had witnessed good activity before noon. A lot of the boat accesses were full. Scholz said anglers were having some success hitting walleyes and bass, but there were mixed results between boats. There was one measurable pike. There was nothing mixed about the weather, though. "It's gorgeous out here," he said.

11:49 a.m.: Out by the hundreds in Albert Lea

In Albert Lea, several hundred people lined the shores of Fountain Lake, casting and bobber fishing for walleyes. DNR conservation officer Jeremy Henke said the bite was slow and anglers in boats seemed to be doing a little better than those on shore.

"The best I've seen is four walleyes in one boat,'' Henke said.

He also patrolled Albert Lea Lake, where the bite was even slower than on Fountain.

"Overall it's pretty slow,'' he said. "But it's a beautiful day and it's a crowd.''

Henke patrolled the local lakes just after midnight, when anglers could officially start fishing for walleyes and pike at 12:01 a.m.

"The overnight guys did better than the daytime guys,'' he said.

11:29 a.m.: Watching the governor's opener action

Down in Lake City at the Governor's Fishing Opener celebration, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman caught a nice walleye before 11 a.m. alongside Gov. Tim Walz in a guided boat. Their boat host on Lake Pepin is Jason Lorenson. They were expected to take a lunch break at 11:45. Claire Lancaster, a spokeswoman for Walz, said she'll provide an update in the afternoon.

10:03 a.m.: Heatin' up on Winnie

9:25 a.m.: Spottail shiner shortage is real

The supply of spottail shiner minnows — a favorite early-season walleye bait in Minnesota — is always in question on opening day and this year is no different.

"There's a big shortage in the state right now,'' said Marshall Koep, owner of Urbank Bait in Otter Tail County. Largely considered one of the state's leading providers of live bait, Koep was busy Saturday morning making deliveries to clients. This year, with early ice-outs, bait dealers were expecting ample amounts of spottail shiners. But Koep said lake and river temperatures never got warm enough to spark a run of shiners into the shallows where they can be trapped. The runs began a few days ago, but not in time to capture and distribute as many spottails as anglers needed.

"It's a hair short,'' said Koep, who sold a lot of golden shiners in lieu of spottails. "Just a few days late this year." He said there was plenty of sunshine to warm up the shallows on some days, but many windy days in April and May would remix the water, dropping the temperatures near shore too low.

6 a.m.: Getting out in force

Saturday is a Minnesota outdoors holiday unlike any other — opening day of fishing — and there is a celebratory weather forecast to match. Warm midday temperatures and generally light winds out of the northwest for much of the state bode well for anglers.

The masses are here for it. Through Thursday, more than 289,000 fishing licenses had sold, an increase of 6% over a year ago at this time. The point is, hundreds of thousands will hit state waters in pursuit of all species of fish but mostly walleye, as some have described the holy grail of game fish. In fact, many anglers began just after midnight Friday when the new season began.

The opener is a tradition that transcends time in Minnesota. In 1974 — 50 years ago — the Minneapolis Tribune covered the day from across the state. Jack Coffman reported from northern Minnesota where "motorboat armadas" invaded Cut Foot Sioux Lake, northwest of Grand Rapids. "Game officials estimated there were 5,000 people on the water," he wrote, and perhaps 1 million or more across the state. (Outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson will fish and report Saturday from his day nearby on Lake Winnibigoshish.)

Where's the governor?

Gov. Tim Walz is in Lake City to mark another Governor's Fishing Opener that included community events and gatherings Friday. Walz and state of Minnesota colleagues launched at 8 a.m. at Lake City Marina, according the state's tourism department, Explore Minnesota. Along for the opener are Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Lake City Mayor Mark Nichols, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen andothers. Last year, Walz was in the Mankato area.

How to help us cover the opener and fishing season

We want to hear your fish tales during the fishing opener. Here's how to contribute: Send a photo and brief story to, use this online form, or post what you are observing and catching on X with #stribfishing.

Zoua Vang of St. Paul casts from a pier Saturday morning on the opener near downtown White Bear Lake. Vang caught a nifty 16-inch largemouth bass to start his morning.
Zoua Vang of St. Paul casts from a pier Saturday morning on the opener near downtown White Bear Lake. Vang caught a nifty 16-inch largemouth bass to start his morning.

Bob Timmons

Vang's largemouth bass. He released the fish after taking a photo.
Vang's largemouth bass. He released the fish after taking a photo.


Facts don't lie: Fishing is big

Here's a mixed bag of fishing facts compiled by the DNR before this year's opener:

*By year's end, at least 1.4 million people will fish in Minnesota based on license sales data.

*The average Minnesota angler spends 15 days fishing each year.

*Walleyes are the most sought-after fish here, followed by northern pike and muskie combined, panfish, bass and trout.

*State waters contain 162 different species of fish, lake sturgeon being the largest.

*According to MN-FISH Sportfishing Foundation & Coalition, fishing and the marine industry is a $4.2 billion enterprise in Minnesota, generating $271 million in annual state tax revenue.

Relevant, helpful coverage this week

*Great forecast: Anderson wrote that all indicators — from ice-out data to walleye movement and spawning — point to an excellent opening weekend. Read it here.

*Strong license sales: The DNR is upbeat on the positive trend, particularly among youth. Read it here.

*Five things to know: Beginning with tips from a Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame guide, here are five things to digest ahead of the walleye season. Read it here.