The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 12, 2012

Fishing opener is Minnesota's May holiday

By John Cross
The Free Press


Minnesota’s weather on the opening day of the fishing season can be notoriously fickle.

In some years, anglers have had to brush the snow from boat seats before setting out across wind-whipped lakes in search of the wily walleye.

But when anglers pushed away from the dock Saturday morning to celebrate Minnesota’s own unique May holiday, they were blessed with bright sunshine and gentle breezes.

And in some locales, probably discovered the vaunted walleye, our state fish, sometimes can be just as fickle as the weather.

Locally, Ryan White, owner of White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake, figured area anglers did “a little bit above average” for walleye.

Allowing that angling reports usually trickle in a couple of days after the opener, he said early reports suggest Lake Washington may have been the hottest area lake, followed by Frances and Madison Lake.

This weekend’s most visible angler, Gov. Mark Dayton, found walleyes pretty elusive.

Participating in the 65th annual Governor’s Opener, this year held on 3,000-acre Lake Waconia west of the Twin Cities and guided by Waconia favorite fishing son, Travis Frank,  a professional angler and guide who knows the lake like his own backyard, he managed to land a single bluegill Saturday morning.

But like most of the 270 or so guests who fished with more than 100 local hosts/guides, he failed to land a walleye.

Dan Thomas, a retired contractor from Chicago who now blogs for the Great Lakes Sportfishing Council, and I were paired with Waconia resident Tom Barrett as our host/guide at the event.

One of the 110 or so local civic-minded residents who owned boats and answered the call of the local organizing committee for people to host/guide media and other participants during the event, he professed to be less than a hard-core angler and expert fishing guide.

Most of his fishing knowledge of the sprawling lake, he modestly said, was during lake time logged with family and friends.

That he began pointing out the clusters of boats about on the lake as we motored from his slip located on the south side of the lake, reeling off the various reefs and structures they were fishing, all to suggest he was sand-bagging his fishing acumen just a bit.

During the course of several hours of searching for walleye, we concentrated on reef edges that fell off into deeper water.

Alternating between fathead minnows, leeches and ’crawlers, all we managed were a few small perch.

But it was a similar story for the boats around us.

Instead of catching walleye, most were catching rays beneath high, blue skies on the nearly calm lake. Only once did we see a net flash in the sunshine before dipping into the water.

A few moments later, a young lady proudly held up a walleye before slipping it back into the water: Lake Waconia walleye must measure 16 inches to legally be kept.

Eventually, we tossed in the towel for walleye and motored to a bay where a smattering of cabbage grew in 10 feet or water.

There, we salvaged the rest of the morning tossing tub jigs to obligingly hungry crappies.

Many were small but enough pushed the 9-inch mark that had we chose to, we could have caught a couple of meal’s worth of the tasty panfish.

By  late morning, it was time to motor back to the county park where we would learn of the success, or lack thereof, of the Governor and his entourage.

And fortunately, where a shore lunch of deep-fried walleye, obviously from other sources, awaited to salve all of our bruised egos.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at