Half a million anglers expected on Minnesota's lakes for this weekend's fishing opener

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Around half a million anglers are expected to take to Minnesota's 10,000 lakes this weekend for the walleye fishing opener – but have been warned they face traffic snarls and low water levels.

The season opens at 12:01 a.m Saturday, but KSTP reports that road construction is likely to hold up many on their way to the lakes, noting lane closures on Highway 10 in Central Minnesota, Interstate 35 near Owatonna, and on Highways 371 and 210 in Baxter.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that all of the state's fishing lakes have been ice-free for weeks now, compared to previous years when some ice remained on opening weekend.

However, the ongoing drought across the state – with almost 40 percent of land in "severe drought" according to the U.S. Drought Monitor – will mean low water levels on many lakes, which spells good news for angling, but bad news for boating.

The Bemidji Pioneer reports that the low levels could make it challenging to launch in some areas of the state, and could also make it treacherous once out on the water.

Joe Henry, of Lake of the Woods Tourism, told the newspaper: "People are telling me they're seeing huge boulders they didn't know were there. I talked to one person who's lived up here 20 years, and he's never seen the water this low."

Warm/low waters expected to bring good fishing

While Minnesota's drought-affected lakes could make things difficult for boat launches, it shouldn't affect the fishing too much.

"To me, low water means the fish are going to be congregated," Scott VanValkenburg, who owns Fisherman's Corner in Duluth, told the Duluth News Tribune. "I'm going to do a lot of shore fishing opening weekend. The shore fishing should be good."

Duane Williams, the DNR's large-lake specialist for Vermillion, adds that the warmer weather seen over the past two months will make for good fishing.

"The early spring I think is going to help things," he told the Rochester Post Bulletin. "The fish are done spawning, the water is warming up, conditions are setting up for a pretty decent opener."

Gov. Mark Dayton will be holding the 68th annual Governor's Fishing Opener Saturday in the Lake Vermillion area in northeast Minnesota, hosted at the Fortune Bay Casino in Tower. He will share a boat with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

Where is the best fishing?

The DNR has identified several lakes where anglers can expect some excellent fishing, including Leech Lake and Lake of the Woods in the northwest, Gull and Pelican in the Brainerd area, and Bowstring, Swan and Winnibigoshish in the Grand Rapids area.

It has put together fishing reports for lakes in Minnesota's different regions, which you can find below.

Northwest

Northeast

Central

Southern

Weather forecast

Anglers can expect a cool, but sunny Saturday in northern parts of the state, while it will be a warm day in the south.

According to Accuweather, the forecast for the Duluth area is sunny with a high of 57, while in Brainerd it'll be a bit warmer with a sunny high of 65.

Those fishing in Red Lake north of Bemidji can expect a high of around 62, while lakes down in the south of the state will be much warmer, with highs in the mid-70s predicted.

The Star Tribune notes that anyone out on the lakes on Sunday should come prepared for some rain.

New restrictions in place

A 40-year low in walleye population has seen the DNR impose historic restrictions on Mille Lacs Lake, with anglers only allowed to keep one walleye per day, which has to be between 19 and 21 inches long, or over 28 inches.

There's also a night fishing ban that starts on Monday and will run until Dec. 1.

KSTP notes that rules are also tighter on Upper Red Lake, where anglers are limited to two walleye and must immediately release all of those caught between 17 and 26 inches, which follows a record catch over winter.

The Post Bulletin notes that anglers across the state are also able to fish for bass on a catch-and-release basis. The season to harvest bass starts on May 23 in most of the state.

The only place you can harvest smallmouth and largemouth bass before then is north and east of Highway 53 from Duluth to International Falls, and in Pelican and Ash lakes in St. Louis County.

Here is a list of seasonal lake and waterway fishing closures across the state. The 2015 DNR fishing regulations booklet can be found here.

Top 10 fishing violations

Most abide by the rules, but some fall afoul, and the DNR has released this top 10 list of fishing violations that anglers in Minnesota committed last year.

1. Fishing license not in possession (194 citations, 2,443 warnings).
2. No license (742 citations, 397 warnings).
3. Extra lines (634 citations, 144 warnings).
4. Improperly/not marked fish house (300 citations, 47 warnings).
5. Over possession limit (262 citations, 47 warnings).
6. Length or slot limit violation (139 citations, 71 warnings).
7. Unattended/set lines (122 citations, 69 warnings).
8. Closed season (67 citations, 33 warnings).
9. No reflective material on fish house (9 citations, 90 warnings).
10. Fish house left on the ice after removal deadline (58 citations, 22 warnings).

Make sure you remember that fishing license – a full list of available licenses can be found here.

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