WADENA, Minn. -- If you’re an angler looking to part waters for the opener, May 15, you’d be hard pressed to find a better batch of waters than the 1,000-plus Otter Tail County calls their own.

It just so happens Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz plans to make a visit to Otter Tail County this weekend to commemorate the annual Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener. Word has it he may be motoring out on Otter Tail Lake, like the last two governors to visit the area in the history of the event.

Event organizer Erik Osberg said Walz has indicated he plans to attend, though an emergency could pull him away from the event. Leadership from both the Senate and House as well as party leadership from both the Republican and Democratic parties have also been invited.

"We won't have 100% certainty until Wednesday or Thursday," Osberg said of Walz attending. "This is the case with every opener event, every year."

Whether Walz attends or not, the event will go on and is meant to attract media to the area to spotlight the tourism and recreation options of Otter Tail County.

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Having more lakes than any other county in the state is one of those highlights that open options for anglers to really get away from the crowds. But lakes don’t mean much to an angler if there aren’t fish to catch. Luckily most of the state’s fish can also be found here.

Area Fisheries Supervisor Jim Wolters oversees Otter Tail County and Wilkin County fisheries and said aside from lake trout and flathead catfish you can find all the great Minnesota fish here.

“We do have a lot of diverse fishing opportunities,” he said.

Angling for panfish, namely crappies has been going strong for some time now this spring. When midnight strikes on May 15, anglers will head out in earnest seeking walleye and pike, too. Both are abundant in Otter Tail County Lakes.

“I think we are sitting at one of the most desirable places for fishing in the state,” he said.

One of the good bets and biggest lake is Otter Tail Lake, which has a great selection of naturally reproducing walleye. The lake is also home to huge northern pike, perch, sunfish, bass and lake sturgeon that have measured 60 inches.

Wolters said walleye anglers this spring can expect their average catch might be a little bit better than what they are used to on the big lake. Walleyes will have spawning wrapped up come opener leaving most male walleye eagerly feeding in the shallows. With spawn over, the walleye can stop focusing on the next generation and go back to eating. Northern pike will be there too as they spawned out before walleye.

Those out testing the waters this spring may have noticed the cold weather has kept water temperatures rather low.

“Spring has sort of been sputtering along,” Perham-area Conservation Officer Chris Vinton said. “We can’t seem to get consistent days of warm weather. We’re kind of in 'Groundhog Day,'” Vinton said, comparing the day-after-day replay of cooler weather to the 1993 movie.

DNR Officer Chris Vinton. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)
DNR Officer Chris Vinton. (RosaLin Alcoser/Focus)

But with the opener as late as it can be, it looks like we may actually have a warmer than usual day to kick off the tourism season.

The cool weather slowed the process of getting enough eggs during the annual walleye egg take at Walker Lake Fish Hatchery. With a little help from Detroit Lakes, they were able to get enough to cover this season stocking and makeup for last year’s COVID-19-canceled egg operation.

What’s it like out there?

Water temperatures were still in the upper 40s and low 50s at the start of the week. Vinton said crappies are just moving into the shallows, though a cold spell sends them back to the depths. Suckers are still in the creeks. That’s later than what was expected considering ice out was before April 1 for many lakes. Crappie fishing has been hit and miss with cooler weather. Vinton said he’s seen some lucky anglers.

“Everybody’s bucket had fish in it,” Vinton said of a recent check on anglers.

He’s not seen much boat activity yet, which means most anglers have some work to do to make sure their boats are ready ahead of hitting access points. Grab that boat plug, fire up the motor, make sure you have fresh gas, and give your boat a good inspection. Perhaps one of the biggest issues of openers is not someone catching too many fish, rather it’s too many anglers trying to get their boat in the water at once.

“Be mindful of the access,” Vinton said. “There is usually plenty of time to get boats prepared. The time for that is not at the ramp.”

If the recent surge in fishing sales is any indication, many more people will be fishing this year than they have in recent years. The goal is to not just catch fish, but to come back home with good memories and perhaps a meal.

If you’re a first time angler, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for pointers from others out on the water. Wolters said the pandemic drove many people to experience fishing for the first time. He hopes they enjoyed it enough to make it a lifetime activity.

“I’m hoping those anglers found something there that will keep them fishing,” he said.

Here are some other important steps to consider in making your outing successful:

Safety steps

Vinton and Wolters both stress the importance of making sure you have personal floatation devices.

“Water temps are still really low,” Vinton said. That’s bad news for anyone that should fall into the water and not get out in a hurry. Vinton encourages people to inspect those PFDs for rips and tears.

Legal requirements

Check registrations for your boat and renew your fishing license now. Registrations can now be done right over your phone so there is little excuse for not getting into a DMV.

In efforts to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species, boaters need to pull those plugs back out when they exit the water. All vegetation you might have picked up needs to be removed as well.

Sunfish regulations

You may see a lot of signs at accesses that alert you to special rules for that body of water. On top of the AIS notice and/or loon nesting signs you may see special regulations for slot limits on fish. Now 13 lakes in Otter Tail County also have signage alerting anglers that the lake has reduced limits on sunfish.

If you don’t pay attention to signs, check the regulations for the lake you are going to before you go.

Vinton understands the changes can be frustrating for anglers to keep track of as it’s difficult for him to keep track of the changes at times. He states that the changes are decisions made by fisherines staff that are meant to provide a higher quality fishing experience for anglers. Maybe you can’t take as many fish home, but the fish you catch should be larger over time.

Opener events schedule

While festivities at the Minnesota Governor's Opener are invite only and attendees must register for most of the events, those members of the media and public officials attending will have quite a schedule of options to attend.

Friday

  • Panfish paradise: Those interested will take part in panfishing options throughout Otter Tail County.
  • Lund boat tour: Attendees take in a tour at the boat factory in New York Mills.
  • Self guided tours go on throughout the county; a tour of Phelps Mill and an exploration of options at Glendalough State Park.

Saturday

  • An online statewide fishing tournament goes on from Saturday, May 15, at 12:01 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Opening ceremony is at 8 a.m. at Beach Bums in Battle Lake.
  • Shore lunch from 11:30 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. at Beach Bums in Battle Lake.
  • Closing ceremonies take place at 5 p.m. at Thumper Pond in Ottertail.

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