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Finally ready for summer

Raina Askin, Co-owner of the Lake Place in Lake Park, scoops up some minnows in the bait and tackle store this morning (Wednesday). BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

It appears the lakes area is finally stocked up on some essential items for the summer … fish and the fish that catch the fish.

Winter kill not that bad

Our long winter had many lake lovers and fisheries experts worried about winter kill this year, but it appears most area fish will live to see another day.

According to Minnesota DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Nathan Olson, experts have been studying both Wolf and Shell Lakes this week, and the news isn’t all bad.

“We do have some winterkill on Wolf, but we also caught some fish (alive) too, so it’s fairly decent out there,” said Olson, who also says while oxygen levels are lower in Shell Lake, it didn’t prove deadly.

“Sometimes fish can find springs and places where there is sufficient oxygen for them to pull though,” he said.

What did suffer, according to Olson, are some area walleye ponds, but even that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Because a lot of times what happens in those ponds is we’ll also get some undesirable fish like bullheads, carps or suckers that will actually take up the resources and eventually take the place of the walleye,” said Olson, who says they are also often times very difficult to kill.

“So when we do get a good winterkill like this, it’s a good thing because we can then start fresh with the walleye and there’s no competition.”

The walleye fry getting this new, fresh start then have a much better chance of surviving into adulthood, which may make favorable walleye conditions in two to three years.

No more bait shortage

When area anglers were finally given the green light to fish for walleye a little over two weeks ago, finding live bait for the big ones was no easy task.

The late ice-off meant bait trappers couldn’t get to the bait, while cold conditions also meant bait fish weren’t spawning at their typical time.

But supply seemed to match demand over the cold, windy opener because while there wasn’t a ton of bait, there wasn’t a ton of fishermen either.

“We had just enough to take care of people, but if it hadn’t been windy and rainy that weekend, we probably would have been short,” said Cory Askin, who owns The Lake Place in Lake Park along with his wife, Raina.

But now, the Askins and other bait shop workers are once again whistling a happy tune as the most popular guys in the bait buckets are again available.

Minnow tanks are again filled with lake shiners — or spottail shiners — and area anglers are hot after them.

“They are already thinning out,” said Askins, who says those fat desirables are only around for the beginning of the season.

“Their spawning time is about over now, so they’ll start to disappear back into the deeper waters, and you won’t see them again until next year,” said Askins. “So that’ll leave us with only the golden shiners that aren’t as big and healthy.”

Askins says while business is good again, there are still a few baitfish remaining elusive.

“We can’t seem to get a hold of any red tail chub because the trappers say the river levels aren’t exactly right to be able to trap them,” said Askins.

“And then the jumbo leeches that are also very popular are in low supply because the bottoms of the ponds were frozen longer than normal so they weren’t able to come out and feed and grow.”

Other than that, he says, they’re stocked and ready for summer.

Ready for a wild ride

For every inch lower the dried out river beds were last year, they are that much higher than normal this year.

This has Kathy Pihlaja, owner of Charlie’s Tubing seven miles east of Detroit Lakes, a happy camper.

“The grass is cut, the tubes are blown up and we’re ready to go,” she said, adding that the water levels are higher than normal this year.  Although she doesn’t know how to measure that extra water in inches, a test run down the river tells her everything.

“Usually at the beginning of the year the rides takes about two to two and a half hours,” she said.

“This year, it’s about an hour to an hour and a half because the water level is higher and it’s faster.”

For Pihlaja and other tubing businesses along the Ottertail, that’s a gift straight from Mother Nature, as last year’s dry conditions meant somewhat of a drought for them as well.

“Now all we need is the warm weather,” she laughed, “and we’re ready!”