MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s all-important walleye season opens next weekend, and the Department of Natural Resources says 500,000 of the state’s 1.4 million licensed anglers are expected to hit their favorite fishing holes on day one.
Gov. Mark Dayton is hosting the 70th annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener on the Mississippi River in the St. Cloud area. Here’s a look at that and other issues for the upcoming season, which opens May 13:
THE GOVERNOR’S OPENER
The 70th annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener will highlight opportunities on the Mississippi River in the greater St. Cloud area of central Minnesota. That stretch of the river might not be the first destination on most anglers’ minds, but local experts say it’s a hot spot. The DNR says it has a walleye catch rate comparable with Minnesota’s best lakes.
Local guide Josh Hagemeister, who will host Lt. Gov Tina Smith, has been fishing the river since he was a kid. “Excellent walleye, smallmouth bass, catfish, muskie, and even huge panfish can be found in the river with minimal effort,” he said.
This is the first time the St. Cloud-Sartell-Sauk Rapids area has hosted the event. The only previous governor’s openers on the Mississippi were at Red Wing in 1998 and Winona in 1973.
At this point, it looks like fishing and hunting license fees won’t be going up soon. The DNR’s proposal for modest fee increases has gained little support in the GOP-controlled Legislature despite a strong push by conservation groups. Still, anything’s possible as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders maneuver toward a budget compromise ahead of the May 22 deadline.
The DNR wants to raise the benchmark annual resident angler license by $3, to $25. Most other license and registration fees would also go up by 12 to 14 percent, which amounts to a few dollars for most of them. The DNR proposed the increases to keep its Game and Fish Fund solvent. Without an increase, the fund and other accounts that provide 83 percent of the agency’s budget will go into the red in the next few years, which would force staff and program cuts. The last fee increase was in 2013.
MILLE LACS LAKE
It’ll be catch-and-release only for walleyes once again on Mille Lacs Lake, where officials are trying to rebuild the popular lake’s walleye population. And the lake will be closed to walleye angling altogether from July 7-27, when hot summer temperatures aggravate hooking mortality, the problem of stressed fish dying after they’re released.
To help the lake’s struggling tourism industry, officials are trying to highlight how Mille Lacs has become a world-class bass fishery even as its walleye numbers remain low for a complex set of reasons that includes too few young fish surviving through their second and third summers. Dayton will travel to Mille Lacs for the bass season opener on May 27.
And a major bass tournament is returning to Mille Lacs for the second year in a row. The 2017 Bassmaster Angler of the Year tournament runs Sept. 14-17. The top 50 anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour will compete for the Angler of the Year title.
UPPER RED LAKE
Upper Red Lake continues to be a success story. Its walleye fishery was shut down from 1999 to 2005 after overfishing caused the population to crash. But the lake has recovered so well that the DNR has raised its daily walleye bag limit from three to four, only one of which may be longer than 17 inches.
Want better fishing? Consider buying a $5 walleye stamp. The money goes to support walleye stocking. They’re available year-round, even for anglers who’ve already bought their licenses.