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Bait shortage could put damper on fishing weekend in some parts of state

By Chelsey Perkins and Travis Grimler, Forum News Service

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Central Minnesota’s most popular fishing lakes have plenty of open water for Saturday’s walleye and northern pike opener, and the forecast is calling for mild temperatures.

But will there be bait for the average angler?

Many lakes remained frozen for last year’s fishing opener. This year is different.

“Last year, it didn’t even open until the Sunday of opener. I know they are going to catch 100 percent more fish than they caught last year on the opener at Pine Mountain Lake,” said Dave Sheley, owner of the Corner Store and Gun Shop in Backus.

Sheley said shiner minnows are usually the most popular walleye bait during the early fishing season. Fake lures are more successful later in the season.

In addition to keeping anglers off the lakes last spring, the weather made minnows hard to come by. Though the weather is much better, Sheley said he might not have shiners Saturday.

“We’re still waiting … to find out the shiner situation,” he said earlier this week. “Last year, because of the late spring, we didn’t really have any shiners, but we didn’t have an opener. This year, it’s nip and tuck as well.”

Sherree Wicktor, owner of S&W Bait north of Brainerd, expects a shortage of shiners.

“The water temperatures are so cold that it’s too cold for the bait to trap real well,” she said.

If unable to get ahold of shiners, Wicktor recommends picking up fathead minnows, pike suckers or rainbows, if you can find them. She said leeches also work well at this time of year.

In lieu of live bait, she recommends trying out Northland Fishing Tackle’s Mimic Minnow or some Powerbait lures.

Despite potential bait shortages, Sheley said walleye will likely be the fish of choice for the opener.

“We need some warmer weather, of course, but I think they’ll catch a few walleye. I don’t think panfish will be too good yet,” Sheley said.

Jim Tuller, owner of Swanson’s Bait and Tackle in Hackensack, predicted success across many surrounding lakes, including Woman, Pleasant, Birch and Webb lakes.

“Leech is a little bit of a second-guesser. It should be open, but the local area lakes are all open right now,” Tuller said.

Tuller said leeches, nightcrawlers, plastic baits and crankbaits could reel in some fish. Tuller also said panfish might be biting for those who aren’t interested in walleye.

“There’s a lot of good panfishing and a lot of people that like to panfish, but the major species everybody is after is walleyes,” Tuller said.

Carol Ottoson, owner of the Bait Box in Crosslake, and manager Peter Christenson said they’ve been hearing that the walleye will be in the shallows.

“When you’re thinking opener, the shallows, channels and below the dam has always been very popular,” Ottoson said.

Asked whether she planned to fish this weekend, Wicktor replied, “I am hoping. I am so busy, I can’t even think about leaving the store.”