With the exception of a few years, we always have a group that heads to Leech Lake for the Minnesota walleye opener. Our family has a long history with the lake. Since I have been going up, we have had groups as large as eight in one cabin and this year we were down to three: my grandpa, my dad, and me. My grandpa has been going up to Leech Lake for opening fishing since the 1960s. I love hearing his stories of driving up in a school bus that his relatives had converted into a RV. They didn’t have paved roads in some areas and every once in a while, they had to get out of the bus, run alongside, and push to get through the mud. Those were the good old days!
We were excited to get out fishing this year, since last year the winter ran into summer and the lake was completely frozen over for the opener and we weren’t able to fish. In addition, the walleye population has been struggling on Leech due to the large number of Cormorants in the area that eat walleye. The DNR started managing the Cormorant population as well as instituted a slot limit on the lake and lowered the limit from six to four fish. Reports have been optimistic and we couldn’t wait to find out!
We’ve been staying at Sugar Point Resort for as long as I can remember. This is located on the northeast part of the lake and offers great fishing opportunities right from the resort and within reasonable distances. Every year, we leave around noon on Friday and start the four-hour drive. We have to make a couple stops on the way up, one at Prince’s Bait for any gear that we forgot or last-minute items to pick up and most importantly, we have to get a brat, burger, or pork chop at the stand outside. The other stop is at a gas station in Remer for some ice cream. By the time we finish our ice cream, we are pulling into the resort. We spend some time checking in and visiting with the resort owners before we unpack and launch the boat. Once we get all the work done, we have dinner, have some drinks and start playing Buck Euchre. One of my favorite things to do while opening fishing is to play Buck!
We got out on the lake around 8 a.m. on Saturday. There was a shortage of our favorite bait, shiners, so we started fishing with rainbows and jigs. The temperature was comfortable and had a light breeze, just enough to drift. We made one long two-hour pass in front of Sugar Point without a bite and decided to try 5-mile, just up the shore. We motored up and dropped our lines. I had a hit within five minutes and set the hook hard, fish on. I knew instantly that this fish would not be under the 20 inch mark and I would have to release it. The first fish of the weekend was a beautiful 24 inch female full of eggs. I snapped a quick picture and returned her to the lake as fast as possible. This lifted our spirits and we began catching fish.
When we went in for lunch, we had three keepers in the boat and many that were too big that we had to release. We grabbed lunch, snuck in a nap and went out with the goal to end the day with our limit. We knew where we should fish, we went straight back to 5-mile and the fishing began. My dad had the hot rod that night and did his share to fill the live-well. The sun was down, we were hungry, and decided we did well enough for the day having netted 18 total fish and 9 keepers so we fired up the motor to head back to the cabin. I cleaned the day’s fish with the help of my grandpa and my dad fired up the grill for burgers and brats. Once we finished dinner, we played a few games of Buck and turned in for the night.
We woke up Sunday morning with a positive outlook; we only needed three keepers to have our limit. We fished hard Sunday morning and were only able to net two keepers. We tried for a couple of hours to get the last one and then decided we were quite hungry for a fish fry. Any fisherman knows that you can’t beat fresh fish.
We deep-fried four walleye and made potatoes, baked beans and some chips for an early dinner. We set out Sunday night with high hopes of catching five more keepers for our limit. None of us can remember the last time we brought home a limit of fish and we were happy about the prospect.
We drove out to 5-mile again and found our spot. I had struggled to catch fish that morning so I hoped to have some action for the night bite and did I ever! I caught a total of eight fish that night but we still didn’t have our limit. We kept at it and my grandpa finally hooked one. As he was reeling up, we got a glimpse of the fish and thought he may be close to the twenty inch mark and may have to be thrown back. I netted the fish for him and he measured it. It was just under 20 inches and we had our limit. We shared high-fives and congratulated each other before we drove back to the cabin.
My grandpa and I cleaned fish again while my dad organized the boat. We always stay up and fish Monday morning before heading back to the Cities but that wasn’t needed. We had our limit and couldn’t catch anymore fish. We loaded up the boat and headed to the cabin to play cards and celebrate.
The opener this year was as good as any I can remember. We had good fishing, food, and great company. We caught a total of 35 fish and 16 fish we were able to keep and eat. We each brought home our four-fish limit. We were happy to do so in order to prove to our wives that we actually do fish while we are away and to be able to enjoy a couple more meals of fresh walleye.