GRAND RAPIDS — If there is one thing anglers should do to be successful during this fishing opener with the coronavirus prevalent, they should do the same thing that has produced successful fishing openers in the past.
While the coronavirus has had an impact on the world in the past months, the ability to land that elusive walleye or huge crappie hasn’t changed. Using the proper methods and equipment, anglers should enjoy a good opener on Itasca County waters on Saturday, May 9.
Noted fishing guide Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids said the ice on area lakes went out early this year as compared with the past two openers when the ice went out right near the opener.
“This year the ice is out about two weeks before the opener so it is more normal,” Neustrom said. “I like it when the when the ice goes out a couple weeks ahead of time. The fish are going to be shallow; the only thing is if we get a massive cold front coming through on Thursday or Friday before opener it will push them off a little deeper.
“So if you are used to catching walleyes in say three to eight feet, you might want to try 10 to 15. Then usually as the day warms up a little bit they will push shallow again.”
Neustrom said in some lakes where the ice goes out late – for instance like Trout Lake in Coleraine – those fish probably haven’t even spawned yet.
“So what you need to do is fish a little deeper during the day and then they will move up at night to spawn,” Neustrom explained. “So the day bite will be deeper while the afternoon and evening bites will be shallow.”
During the opener, Neustrom said anglers can’t go wrong using a jig and minnow to attract the walleyes.
“I know there has been a lot of emphasis on plastics taking the place of live baits but I can tell you there have been some pretty well-known professional anglers up here that have come and gone with not a lot of fish to show because they wanted to use plastics,” Neustrom explained.
“I can tell you that a jig and a shiner or a jig and a rainbow chub are going to be your ticket. Sometimes crank baits in the evening using a slow troll at night along the breaklines along shore, a lot of times you can catch fish doing that.
“But I can tell you right now through four decades of guiding, jig and minnow is our go-to bait here.”
While most anglers pursue walleyes for the opener, Neustrom said to not forget northern pike and crappies. He said northern pike are mixed in with the walleyes so most anglers will catch some of this species. He added that crappies might be a good alternative if the walleye are not biting.
“Going after crappies, go into the shallow bays at the north end of the lake because the angle of the sun warms the north shore up quicker,” Neustrom said. “I like to look for mud bottoms – soft-bottom bays – and understand that the crappies are not spawning; they are up there eating. They don’t spawn until the water gets to about 60 or 62 degrees which is probably another two or three weeks.
“Use a small jig, minnow and float and if you are in three feet of water, set your bobber at two feet. Don’t fish exactly where the bottom is because crappies feed up.”
With so many lakes in Northern Minnesota offering anything an angler would like, Neustrom said the big lakes such as Winnie, Leech, Cass and Red Lake are the primary walleye lakes in the area but he said about 80 percent of the many lakes in the Grand Rapids area have walleyes.
“We have one of the most diversified fisheries in the entire state and that’s why we attract a lot of people to the Grand Rapids area,” Neustrom said “It’s a big fish-and-catch area in the state.”
Neustrom – who owns Minnesota Fishing Connections – said local bait shops are a good source for fishing information, and he added that anglers can also contact him at 218-259-2628 for information. He warns that some of the launches may be closed this spring, especially those located on federal property.
“I think if you call and get the information it is really going to help you with your trip,” he said. “Make sure you buy your license before you get up here because the bait shops will be servicing just a couple people at a time. Get your license online and don’t forget about social distancing because it could be important.
“We have to be very, very careful. Your expectations are that there is always going to be very good fishing up here but I think the health is most important. If you are not feeling well, be safe and don’t come up here.”