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Spawning walleyes still waiting for warmer temperatures

The record early spring wasn't as early as it first appeared, at least as far as the lakes are concerned.

Water temperatures are the key to how fast the spring progresses in the lakes. The fish wait to spawn until the conditions are right and will usually wait for the temperatures to go through their preferred temperature during a warming trend before they spawn.

Lakes in the Bemidji area have been in a holding pattern almost since the ice went out. Water temperatures are still in the middle 40s and actually dropped this past week with the snow and overnight temperatures below freezing.

Walleyes have slowly been filtering through the DNR egg stripping stations but most are not ready to spawn.

During some years the DNR officials barely are set up before they are swamped with walleyes ready to drop their eggs and the DNR is often able to fill the quota of walleye eggs in only a few days. This year, however, it is taking weeks.

The DNR egg stripping stations are set up on rivers or narrows along the pathway of spawning walleyes. These river run fish are usually weeks ahead of the walleyes that spawn in lakes, so the lake spawning walleyes haven't even started to spawn yet.

What appeared to be a record spring in March is turning out to be almost a normal spring as far as the timing of the walleye spawn is concerned, especially in the northern part of Minnesota.

Persistent cold weather has derailed most of the momentum to move up the date of the walleye, sauger and northern pike fishing opener, which is a good thing for most people intimately involved in fishing.

Resort owners, bait trappers, boat dealers, tackle shops and other businesses involved in providing services for anglers on the opener work on a tight schedule in the spring to get everything ready.

Changing the date of the fishing opener on short notice would not only hurt business, it would water down the excitement on the opener and spoil one of the two most important dates on the outdoor calendar (the other being the rifle deer opener).

Several hundred thousand anglers in Minnesota have already made plans for the fishing opener. They already know where they are staying, what lake they will be fishing and even who will be fishing with them in the boat. It is too late to change plans for this season.

Minnesota is a large state from north to south, so the date for the fishing opener is a compromise date that has to be early enough for the south part of the state so they don't miss the spring bite, but not so early that the fish in the north part of the state have a chance to spawn before the season opens.

This year is a good example. There were trees full of leaves and lilac bushes blooming in the Twin Cities this week while Bemidji had snow, with most of the lawns just starting to turn green and the trees just starting to bud.

If the opening of the fishing season is too early, the DNR has to waste time and money going around testing the waters and posting and closing some areas to fishing on the opener to be sure the walleyes have a chance to spawn before the season starts.

The state record walleye was a pre-spawn fish caught in the boundary waters on a late spring. The DNR failed to close some areas to fishing and a significant number of large pre-spawn female walleyes were harvested by anglers. This was a mistake that hopefully won't be repeated.

A final reason the fishing opener should not be changed is the Wisconsin opener is the first Saturday in May and Minnesota is usually the second Saturday in May. Many anglers like to fish both openers so it doesn't make sense to have both openers on the same weekend.

Anglers are reminded to consider buying a walleye stamp when they purchase their 2012 Minnesota fishing licenses. The funds raised by the walleye stamps are strictly earmarked and can only be used for stocking more walleyes in Minnesota lakes.

PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at