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Brad Laabs: Fish open water now, come back to favorite lakes after ice out

First, happy Mother’s Day to any mothers reading this. For everyone else, make sure you recognize the mothers in your life this Sunday.

We have finally reached the Minnesota opener even though we don’t have all the lakes open yet! We have also been getting some nicer weather that reaffirms will still have a spring season! Conditions will change quickly now. In another week or so, everything in our area should be ice free.

This is definitely an opener to remember — one for the books. This one will be talked about, and referred to for years. Even the people that love winter got burned out on this “winter without end.” We are just getting “ice out” and water temperatures will just now have a chance to start warming.

Lake and ice conditions have changed dramatically over the last few days with this warm weather, and will continue to do so in the coming week. At this time I would recommend staying off all ice. Lakes that had good ice a week ago will not be safe now. No fish is worth putting your life at risk. Pick an open body of water (lake or river) to fish now, and get back to your favorite lake in a few days when it opens up. Fish where you can and not necessarily where you want.

Some lakes will have open access and still have ice in the mid-lake. Be careful if you launch on these lakes as the ice will move with the wind. You and your boat can get trapped in a dangerous situation if you don’t pay close attention. This kind of situation happened in 2008 to 15 groups of anglers on Leech Lake.

For those anglers that are getting out, be very mindful of the extremely cold water temperatures and the risks of hypothermia that come with these conditions. Make good decisions and stay safe.

Most anglers that are getting out will be focusing attention on river inlets and outlets on area lakes. Shore fishing from river banks will also be a “go to” strategy for this opening weekend and the next few days.

Walleyes and northern pike are still dealing with their spawning activities and the DNR has still been “stripping” walleyes at the hatchery. This is extremely late for this activity and the DNR has been harvesting for almost two weeks now. I think we will still have walleyes and northern pike in spawn for the next week or so. 

We will experience a very late crappie spawn also, and I would look for the shallow crappie bite to get active in about a week or ten days. If chasing crappies now, they will be staging off the first break in areas of the lake that warm the quickest. These areas will include shallow bays, dark bottom shallow flats that produce early weed growth, and the north shore areas of lakes (because it gets the most sun exposure this time of year). When the water warms up, the crappies will move to shallow spawning areas.

Bass will also be late with their spawn this year, and many will be active in the shallows for the next several weeks. Many bass will get caught in shallow water while anglers are fishing for other species. Remember, bass season does not open for two more weeks, so put them back.

If you are fishing areas or lakes that are new to you as part of the adjustment to this bizarre start to our open water season, make sure that you check your regulation book. We have several lakes in our area that have special regulations for a variety of species. Enjoy the opener we are having and make the best of the situation.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)