Weather Forecast


Extended winter will impact walleye opener on Bemidji area lakes

With one week remaining before the Minnesota fishing opener on May 11, it still looks like there will be ice on many of the lakes in the Bemidji area when the season opens.

Lake Minnetonka was declared ice free on May 1, although there is some disagreement on when to make that call.

Lake Bemidji has an average ice-out date 13 days later than Lake Minnetonka and Leech Lake averages 14 days later.

This would put the ice-out dates for many lakes in the Bemidji area around May 14, give or take a day or two in either direction.

The rivers in Minnesota may be some of the busiest places when the season opens next Saturday. The closest large rivers to Bemidji are the Red River, the Rainy River and the St. Louis River near Duluth.

There are also sections of the Mississippi River near Bemidji, the Turtle River and many other smaller rivers flowing in and out of lakes that may hold walleyes on the opener.

A few anglers may try to go ice fishing on the opener, just to say they did it. The ice conditions in most areas should have deteriorated enough by then to keep most anglers off the ice.

There will likely be some other obstacles for anglers to overcome early in the season. It could take several days or more after ice-out to get all of the docks into the public accesses.

There could also be issues with the supply of bait this year. Bait trappers have been unable to get into the ponds and lakes this spring.

It is the same thing with the leech trappers, although this should be a good season for leech trapping with high water levels in most leech ponds.

The selection of minnows may not be what anglers expect, with much of the bait having to be imported from further south due to the late spring.

Many walleye anglers think a spot-tail shiner and a jig is the only bait worth having early in the season. The supply of spot-tail shiners may be at an all-time low this year because of the presence of an invasive species.

Lake Winnibigoshish was identified as being infested with zebra mussels last fall. This means the minnow trapping season will be closed after May 22, to help prevent the spread of juvenile zebra mussels when they hatch into the water.

Winnibigoshish is generally regarded as the most prolific and best lake in Minnesota for trapping spot-tail shiners. The late spring and the early closer of the minnow trapping season could seriously diminish the number of spot-tail shiners available to anglers all across Minnesota.

Bait trappers will still be able to harvest spot-tail shiners from lakes like Upper Red Lake, Osakis, Cass Lake and a few other lakes, but most lakes are harder to trap than Winnibigoshish and don’t have the abundance of smaller spot-tail shiners that are the perfect size for jigging.

Anglers are reminded the 2012 Minnesota fishing licenses expired on April 30, so anglers will need to purchase 2013 Minnesota fishing licenses before going fishing again.

Anglers should consider purchasing a walleye stamp when they buy their 2013 fishing licenses. The walleye stamps are optional but the funds are strictly earmarked for stocking walleyes, so it is a chance for anglers to contribute to putting more walleyes in Minnesota lakes.

Anglers will need to be aware that there will be more areas closed to angling this spring than is usual. Areas with potential concentrations of pre-spawn walleyes will be closed to angling early in the season to give the walleyes a chance to spawn and disperse back into the lakes.

The Minnesota state record walleye was caught during a similar late spring in 1979. The record walleye was still full of spawn and was caught in the Seagull River (connected to Lake Saganaga).

An interesting coincidence is 1979 was the last time Park Rapids hosted the Governor’s Fishing Opener and that community is hosting the event again in this year. Maybe there is a pattern here and another record walleye is waiting out there somewhere for some lucky angler.

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

Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.