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Walleye wishes and pike dreams

As anglers gear up for Saturday's fishing opener, area lakes could be in better shape than last year, due to slightly warmer temperatures and an earlier ice-out.

John Store, owner of Quality Bait and Tackle on Washington Avenue in Detroit Lakes, said he expects more people to be out on the lakes this year, due to the nice weather and gas prices far from their $4 per gallon days during last summer.

Last year, he said, the ice was barely off the water by the time the opener rolled around, and although it was still a long winter, waters have had a chance to warm.

"It should be a great opener," Store said. "We might get a little rain, but that doesn't matter."

And despite the recession, he said sales have been normal, an observation echoed by Lakes Sport Shop.

Associate Blake Sorum said he hasn't seen any change in customer shopping habits since last year.

"They're going to go fishing regardless of price," he said.

Local fishing guide Brad Laabs said the weather is actually comparable to last years', and that fish might still be seven to 10 days behind normal feeding schedule.

Still, he said, some signs are pointing up.

"I know some people that trap leeches, and that's improved observably every day and that's usually a good sign," Laabs said. "Last year, we caught some good fish on opener, so I anticipate it will be as good as last year."

The Department of Natural Resources is offering a more wallet-friendly licensing option this year, however, even if it means less fish in the fry pan.

The conservation license, available only to Minnesota residents, is slightly less expensive than a regular fishing license, with the agreement that an angler's limit is half of that for a normal license.

For example, walleye anglers would normally have a limit of six fish, but with the conservation license, the angler would be limited to three. For odd number limits, the half-limit rounds down, so for northern pike, which has a regular limit of three fish, an angler would only get to keep one.

Make sure you have that license and pay attention to your limit, too, because area DNR conservation officers will be out in full force this weekend.

Becker County Conservation Officer Joe Stattelman said they'll be checking everything from boating equipment to licenses and fish in possession.

"Fishing opener is always a big deal to us, it's one of our biggest weekends," he said.

Statewide, he said, the DNR will have about 150 officers out, but Stattleman and fellow officer Al Peterson will be starting at midnight on Saturday in Becker County. Stattleman said Clay County Conservation Officer Phil Seefeldt will also have charge of a section of Becker County near Cormorant Lake.

Detroit Lakes area DNR fisheries manager Jim Wolters said the new license may take a while to catch on, and might not be popular this first year until people become educated about it.

Conservation licenses have been implemented lately in a few other states, and have been available in Canada for some time, he said.

Wolters said the new license will eventually catch on since most people don't catch their limit anyway.

"Very few people actually their limit of walleye, so if they're not getting their limit anyway, why not buy a conservation license?" he said. "They might now just have the option of paying a little less."

Still, he said, it's not going to deter those who want all the fish they can get.

"You're still going to have some people that want their 20 sunfish, but I think the sales will go up as people's awareness goes up," Wolters said.

A regular individual fishing license for the season is $17. The individual conservation license is $11. A normal combined license is $25, but the conservation version is $17.