READY FOR THE OPENER? Here is a fishing forecast for your part of the state:

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From the DNR

Near and far, good conditions on tap for fishing opener

Barring storms, favorable conditions should be on tap for anglers when fishing begins for walleye and northern pike Saturday, May 9, with this year’s season following a slightly earlier-than-normal ice out.

Walleye and northern pike spawning will have been on-track before opener, and anglers have a wide variety of choices this year while planning fishing opener trips.

Anglers who are planning trips or have questions can visit Fish Minnesota, the fishing information hub from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The site at www.mndnr.gov/fishmnincludes links to:

  • Information about new or special regulations by typing the water name into the LakeFinder search box (also available in the 2015 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet).
  • Detailed regional fishing outlooks by clicking on “Fishing outlooks by region.”
  • Public water access maps by clicking on “Boat ramps & canoe landings.”
  • Area fisheries office phone numbers by clicking on “Area Fisheries Offices.”

Water levels on many lakes are still below normal following recent drought conditions. Anglers are advised to call a local DNR office before traveling to inquire about water level or boat access conditions and to have a plan B on fishing opener.

“It may be wise for boaters to call ahead to get the latest report on the water body and access they plan to use,” said Nancy Stewart, DNR public water access program coordinator.

Northwest region outlook

Anglers in the northwest region can expect excellent walleye action on Leech, Upper Red and Cass lakes, and Lake of the Woods. Along those lines, the best bets for opener will be traditional walleye opener lakes that tend to have earlier ice out and large expanses of shallow water, including the streams and rivers that flow through them.

The northwest region also boasts trophy northern pike lakes like Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake. And if walleye and pike fishing slow down, there are plenty of opportunities to catch bluegill and crappie, and to catch and release bass.

Excellent lake sturgeon fishing opportunities also exist, particularly in the lower reaches of the Rainy River or Fourmile Bay. The harvest season on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods runs from Friday, April 24, to Thursday, May 7, and Wednesday, July 1, to Wednesday, Sept. 30. Sturgeon fishing regulations can be found at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn/sturgeon. The lake sturgeon season is closed to all fishing Saturday, May 16, to Tuesday, June 30.

Northeast region outlook

The northeast region has tried-and-true walleye lakes. However, anglers who want to avoid the crowds or explore have plenty of options.

Not far from the giant bluegill monument in Orr, the fishing in Pelican Lake boasts much more than panfish: The lake has a diverse fishery with a strong northern pike and bass population, and the highest-ever walleye abundance observed in 2012 – and these fish had an average weight of 2.4 pounds. Black crappie abundance was in the top 25 percent for similar lakes and fish up to 13 inches were present in test nets.

Anglers who fish near Brainerd or Grand Rapids will have a tough time going astray. Around Brainerd, good year classes of walleye have been seen on larger lakes like Gull, Pelican, Whitefish, North Long and Round, as well as on scenic lakes like Washburn or Big Thunder. In Grand Rapids-area lakes, there could be great early season action in large, productive and shallow lakes like Bowstring, Split Hand, Swan, and Round, and those in the Winnibigoshish/Cut Foot Sioux system.

Aitkin County has a wide variety of lakes with good largemouth bass populations and opportunities to catch quality sized fish. Big Sandy Lake should provide good opportunities for anglers to catch walleye within the harvest slot of 14- to 18-inches and possibly a chance for the one over 26 inches allowed by the current regulation. Then there are others like Esquagamah, Farm Island, Hill, Round (west of Palisade), and Round (near Garrison) lakes that should also provide good opportunities for walleye anglers. And the Mississippi River continues to have a diverse fish community.

Central region outlook

With numerous quality fishing lakes located nearby a majority of the state’s population, central region anglers have a number of opportunities that in some ways hide in plain sight.

Consider, for instance, that Cedar and Calhoun have an up-close view of downtown Minneapolis, and offer chances to catch game fish like northern pike, largemouth bass, and muskellunge when the muskie season opens on Saturday, June 6.

The west and east metro each have options to be explored, like Lake Susan in Chanhassen with a typical regional sportfish mix in a suburban park setting. And Bald Eagle Lake in the east metro offers a solid fishery for both northern pike and walleye, as well as a very respectable largemouth bass and muskie fisheries.

Anglers in the region who see more farm fields than tall buildings have lakes like Clearwater in Wright and Stearns counties, or Howard in Wright County, to target black crappie, northern pike, largemouth bass and walleye. In Clearwater Lake, crappies are abundant and reaching large sizes of longer than 14 inches. In Howard Lake, the bullheads and not the crappies tend to be longer than 14 inches, but fear not because the number of walleye caught in 2014 was higher than expected, with fish averaging 21 inches and 3.5 pounds, and northern pike averaging 25.5 inches and 3.8 pounds.

Farther north, Little Rock Lake in the Little Falls area is often overlooked but has a naturally reproducing walleye population.

Southern region outlook

Mild weather and little snow accumulation over the winter was a relief to many southern region fishing lakes after last year’s severe winter because there was little-to-no winterkill observed. Winterkill can happen when snow and ice limit sunlight to aquatic plants, leading to oxygen depletion that can kill fish.

What’s more, advanced spring conditions have warmed lakes much earlier, allowing fish species like walleye and northern pike to complete their spawning cycle well before the fishing opener. This makes for prime conditions and a hot fish bite on shallow lake systems, and the DNR anticipates a good year for catching active fish in May.

Some good bets to fish walleye for 2015 are Collinwood (Meeker County), Benton (Lincoln County), Shetek (Murray County), Mountain (Cottonwood County), Big Kandiyohi (Kandiyohi County), Koronis (Stearns County), Big Stone and Traverse (Big Stone and Traverse counties), and Cannon (Rice County) lakes, and the Minnesota River.

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