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Opener deemed big success: ‘Fishing is still a fever for these guys’

A pair of anglers cast for the big walleye on the calm waters of Leaf Lake Saturday morning. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 5
Mike Hauglid of Detroit Lakes lands a bass off the shore of Lake Sallie near Dunton Locks Saturday morning. He was fishing for panfish but said it was tough to keep his bait on his hook with all the bass biting. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 5
Travis Renney of Detroit Lakes lands another crappie to add to his nearly full bucket of panfish at Dunton Locks Saturday morning. He found the panfish and bass were biting better than walleyes close to shore. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 5
Bill and Paul Austin launch their boat on the west side of Big Cormorant Lake Saturday morning. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham4 / 5
A pair of anglers fish close to shore on Big Cormorant Lake Saturday morning. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham5 / 5

The old-time fishing camp may not be as popular as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean Minnesotans aren’t out there fishing.

Anglers these days are more apt to have good boats and are more likely to move from lake to lake to find the fish – and women are more likely to be involved in both fishing and hunting, said Bruce Paskey, co-owner of Lakes Sports Shop.

“Fishing is still a fever for these guys, that’s for sure,” he said.

Better-quality fishing rods and reels have been selling well, starting a few weeks prior to opening weekend, he said.

“These high-end rod-and-reel combos are our bread and butter, that’s doing real well,” Paskey said. “People have these expensive boats, they want high-end equipment to go with them.”

Women are more apt to be avid outdoors enthusiasts these days as well, he added. “That’s why we’re seeing more of the pink stuff,” or sporting equipment with colors marketed directly to women, Paskey said.

The weather gods shone on the fishing opener Saturday, and that made a big difference compared to last year, said Corey Askin, owner of The Lake Place in Lake Park, which sells bait and tackle.

“It was a very, very good opener for us,” he said. “It stayed very busy … I think people just wanted to get out after a long winter.”

Detroit Lakes fishing guide Brad Laabs agreed.

“I’d say it was up over the last few years, maybe even the last 10 years,” he said.

“I think overall it was probably one of the nicest days for a fishing opener we’ve had in quite some time,” Laabs added.

“Some found some walleyes, we found walleyes, but some boats really had a hard time finding them,” he said. On the other hand, the northern pike were biting like crazy, and many anglers had luck finding other types of fish.

“A lot of boaters switched over to panfish as a way of saving the opener if they weren’t catching walleyes,” Laabs said. “Crappies and sunfish were really active in shallower water.”

It’s not surprising that walleyes were hard to find, he said. “Some of the walleye males were still milking, so we still have some walleyes that are just finishing up their spawn.”

Most anglers did better than the opener last year, which saw many lakes still frozen over and “terrible winds, 30 miles per hour,” on opener weekend, Laabs said.

“Nice weather makes a big difference,” he added. “The number of anglers that were out, if you looked at accesses on Detroit, Cormorant, Melissa, Sallie, they all had 10 cars or so at the accesses. Even Cotton and some other lakes that don’t typically get early-season pressure had boats.”

 Minnesota fishing licenses are selling at a much brisker pace this spring than last spring, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Through the Friday a week before the opener, the state had sold nearly 207,000 licenses, up from about 124,000 last year at the same time.

That compares to 218,000 in 2012, 164,000 in 2011 and 244,500 in 2010 on the Friday a week before the opener, according to Sam Cook, an outdoors writer for the Duluth News Tribune.