MINNEAPOLIS — The ice is receding as Minnesota's fishing opener approaches, and that has longtime Leech Lake resort owners Steve Jacobson and Roy Huddle breathing a little easier and optimistic for a strong start to the season.
Despite a record cold winter, more of Minnesota's lakes are expected to be ice-free when Minnesota's walleye season opens on Saturday than were clear for last year's opener. Gov. Mark Dayton had to fish on a river last year because the lakes near Park Rapids were still frozen over, but Gull Lake near Nisswa is expected to be wide open for the 2014 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener.
The Department of Natural Resources' online ice-out map for the state showed that many lakes across the southern two-thirds of the state were ice-free by Friday. The dividing line closely followed U.S. Highway 2 from Duluth to East Grand Forks. Even north of that line, many smaller lakes should be open and many larger lakes should at least have some open water come next weekend.
Leech Lake in north-central Minnesota is right on that dividing line. It's become a success story in recent years with a resurgent walleye population that has allowed the DNR to relax the lake's size restrictions for the upcoming season. Anglers will be allowed to keep four walleyes up to 20 inches long instead of 18 inches like last season. All walleyes within the 20- to 26-inch "slot" must be released, although one trophy walleye longer than 26 inches may be kept.
That's exciting for Larry Jacobson, owner of Hiawatha Beach Resort on the west end of the lake, who was looking out at a wide open Steamboat Bay on Friday.
"The number of keep-able walleyes in the lake has almost doubled because of the change in the slot," Jacobson said. "So there's kind of a phenomenal potential for fishermen on Leech — absolutely phenomenal."