A lure of the lakes
'You got any shiners?"
That was the million-dollar question Friday at Ken's Tackle Shop on Otter Tail Lake, situated on what's considered one of the top 10 walleye-fishing lakes in Minnesota.
"Maybe I should just put a sign up on the door," quipped Gary Peterson, who was preparing for his fourth Minnesota fishing opener as owner of Ken's Tackle. "Right now, we have no shiners."
Lake shiners are the preferred bait among walleye anglers this time of year. Hungry walleye instinctively feed on the shiners when they spawn in the spring. Problem is, a late-arriving spring has kept the water too cold for the shiners to spawn - eliminating the walleye's easiest dinner.
With the ice disappearing just last weekend on Otter Tail Lake, water temperatures remained at about 42 degrees for today's fishing opener. Peterson reminded his customers that good walleye fishing usually comes when the water temperature reaches 55 degrees.
"You're better off using a fathead or a smaller minnow," Peterson told Shane Matchinsky, who along with 11 other anglers from Alexandria, Minn., were staying in Three Seasons Lodge across the road.
Shiners or no shiners, Ken's Tackle was once again a flurry of activity on the eve of the Minnesota fishing opener - a "national holiday," according to Peterson's wife, Kim. Maintaining a tradition that began when the bait shop was built in 1972, Peterson was keeping his doors open 24 hours - catering to those anglers who were going to fish just after midnight when the walleye season officially opened and to those anglers who annually show up at sunrise.
"I was up at 5 a.m. today, and I probably won't get to bed until 10 tomorrow night," Peterson said. "I'll be drinking a lot of coffee and Mountain Dew."
Peterson, 53, grew up on a farm a few miles from Otter Tail Lake. For 27 years, he and Kim raised their two daughters in West Fargo. Once both Jenna and Kelsey graduated from high school, Peterson - a home construction worker - decided to buy Ken's Tackle from Ken and Gwen Grewe, who ran the business since 1977.
The 2,400-square foot A-framed building has remained a general store of sorts - selling plumbing and electrical hardware, souvenir-type clothing, ice cream, burgers and its well-known cinnamon and caramel rolls.
"Are your cinnamon rolls ready?" asked Gary Forsberg, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who stopped in at noon. "Have you been busy?"
"I've been selling a lot licenses ... $600 so far today," Peterson said. Just fewer than 1.4 million fishing licenses were sold in Minnesota last year.
For anglers, that's what Ken's Tackle is all about - a place to buy a fishing license, some tackle and some bait. It's advertised as the only full-service bait and tackle shop on Otter Tail Lake.
In small water tanks, there are fatheads, golden shiners, sucker minnows and crappie minnows. In a refrigerator tucked in a corner, there are leeches and nightcrawlers.
Four Styrofoam cups of worms is what a foursome from Willmar, Minn., purchased Friday afternoon. Before today's opener, they were heading to nearby Phelps Mill to catch some panfish and northerns.
"They go through piles of crawlers," said 23-year-old Jenna of the group that comes to Otter Tail Lake every fishing opener, a weekend when it is estimated that anglers statewide will spend $3 million.
"You got your license?" Gary asks the group.
"I've got my license. ... I've got my license," one angler answers loudly.
Peterson reminds most customers about a license, not wanting them to get caught without one. Such advice is something customers have come to expect.
"When Gary's truck is parked out front here, our traffic seems to be busier," Kim said. "People really want to get the lowdown from Gary as far as fishing."
He told Matchinsky that the walleyes will more than likely be found in the 10- to 20-foot range.
"Fishing is my hobby," Peterson said. "But everybody thinks this is a dream job. Come in here and put in 20 hours a day and you'll find out it's not much of a dream job.
"But I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love it. It's all worth it if you can teach someone how to catch a fish."