Brad Laabs: Here's where the fish will be hiding on opener weekend

A northern pike waits in ambush beside some vegetation. Photo courtesy the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

This Saturday (starting at 12:01 a.m.) is the Minnesota fishing opener for inland waters.

Walleyes and northern pike will join panfish as harvestable fish. Bass can be targeted for catch-and-release only until Saturday, May 23.

Water temperatures are ranging from the mid 40s to the low 50s in mid-lake and 50 to 60 degrees in shallow bay areas.

Panfish continue to move in and out of shallow water with the weather. It looks like we are going to be fishing the opener in a cold front. Some fish will be shallow, but looking to the edges of the first break to deep water off of shoreline flats will be a good strategy to find fish.

The shiner run has not really started yet, and they will be hard to get for bait this opener. Many times fish are in 4 to 9 feet of water on opening day, but with the water temps and weather, you may want to look deeper, more in the 9- to 20-foot range.


Brad Laabs column mug
Brad Laabs

Jigs and minnows/plastics are always a good bet, as are live bait rigging with minnows/leeches/crawlers or slip bobber fishing with hooks or jigs under the bobbers tipped with leeches or minnows.

As with most fishing openers, some will do well, some will struggle with even getting bites, but everyone will enjoy the fact that they are back out on the lakes.

If the walleyes aren’t cooperating for you and you are planning on a fish fry, shift gears and chase the panfish bite, as they are usually willing biters. Expect to catch some northern pike, as they are never as negatively affected as walleyes are during a cold front. Northern is also a very tasty fish (some say they even prefer it over walleye -- not me, but everyone to their own individuality!)


Northern are easier to eat if the “Y” bones are removed during cleaning. The reason some won’t keep northern is due to the fact that they are more messy and difficult to clean (a lot of fish slime and “Y” bone removal). There are several very good YouTube videos on ways to clean northern and remove the “Y” bone. With the change last year in harvesting for our region, you can keep 10 northern pike per person. Of the 10, only two can be over 26 inches, and the others must be under 22 inches. All northern pike from 22-26 inches must be released.
Shiner minnows, especially the spot tail shiners, will be hard to come by this opener as the run for them has not really gotten started yet, due to our weather the last couple of weeks. River shiners, golden shiners, sucker minnows, and fatheads will work.

Many will stay with plastics on the jigs with the increase in available bait colors and styles. It never hurts to have minnows, leeches, crawlers and plastics along, as you just don’t know what the fish preference will be. Have fun, I hope you catch a few fish. Be patient and tolerant at the accesses and practice your social distancing.


(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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