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Eric Morken: Sunny, calm conditions of opening weekend feel great but can lead to a challenging bite

Getting bait away from the boat proved to be important for area guides Mike Frisch and Joe Scegura in their boats getting on fish during the sunny, calm conditions that led to a challenging bite over opening weekend.

Robbie Wesley Betterman walleye.jpg
Alexandria's Wesley Betterman was excited to catch the first walleye of the day out of his boat as he reeled in this walleye all by himself while fishing with his dad, Robbie, during the 2021 Minnesota fishing opener the weekend of May 15-16. (Contributed photo)

Anglers all over Minnesota who took part in the fishing opener this past Saturday were greeted with beautiful weather by almost anyone’s standards for a weekend on the water in mid-May.

I can remember fishing in rain, winds and temperatures in the 30s or 40s on the worst weather weekends for the opener growing up. This was anything but that with bright sunshine, hardly any wind and high temperatures in the 70s in Alexandria on Saturday and Sunday.

That made for pleasant conditions, but it likely also played a big role in what was a tough walleye bite around the area for some. There are going to be those who found their fish, but the consensus I heard from many was that walleyes did not necessarily come easy.

Ross Anderson Walleye.jpg
Ross Anderson, 9-years-old from Alexandria, was all smiles after catching his first walleye at 1 a.m. on May 15. This was the first year that he was allowed to go fishing right at midnight. "For me, the opener is important because I am trying to be the best fisherman I can be and one thing for that is just trying to catch fish. So every time I go fishing, I try to think where the fish are, and what they are hungry for," Ross said.


“It had a huge effect,” Mike Frisch, area guide and host of the Fishing the Midwest TV series, said on Monday when asked about the calm, sunny conditions over opening weekend. “We fished in a spot where there were probably 20 boats working. Three boats were catching fish consistently. Two of those guys were anchored up, pitching jigs and minnows on long casts. My guys were using a classic Lindy Rig. What we did is went to really light weights and we long-lined them a long way behind the boat. Because of the clear, flat conditions, I just don’t think they wanted to bite anything that was close to the boat. Anybody we saw that was trying to fish vertical or fairly vertical was struggling.”

Frisch was on Otter Tail Lake near Ottertail where they did get their three-person limit.

“But it wasn’t easy, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Frisch likes water temperatures to be 55 degrees or above, and those temperatures fluctuated between 53 degrees when he first got on the water to 58 by the time they left.

“Even though that water’s clear, it seemed like the best bite was probably about 9:30 in the morning until noon,” Frisch said. “By then, the water was up to about 56. The water warming up helped the bite, but you had to be away from the boat with your bait.”

Bruce Shriver holds up a limit of walleyes caught during the 2021 Minnesota fishing opener over the weekend of May 15. (Contributed photo)

Alexandria’s Joe Scegura had a similar report as Frisch. Scegura and his group caught plenty of walleyes for their fish fry on opening weekend, but the bite could have been much better with a little bit of wind. Scegura said the fish are more spread out during weather like anglers had over opener, and that lower-light time periods tend to be important for finding big fish.

Fishing deeper, being quiet and getting baits out away from the boat were key in his group finding more fish. Scegura is catching walleyes in water depths as shallow as 3-5 feet in windy conditions and as deep as 25 feet when it’s calm.


“I’ve been guiding the past couple days and with better walleye conditions (windy and overcast), the nice-sized walleye have been much easier to find than they were on opening day,” Scegura said on Wednesday morning. “The excitement level is still high. Fishing is a great pastime and lucky for me my entire family enjoys it, so we will be out as much as possible.”

Ron Scegura with a big walleye caught during the May 15, 2021 Minnesota fishing opener. (Contributed photo)

Many anglers I have talked to in recent years mention the importance of getting baits out away from the boat in order to catch fish now on clear bodies of water. Zebra mussels were first confirmed in Otter Tail Lake in 2016. The aquatic invasive species often increase water clarity by filtering out the tiniest of food particles within a system.

My parents have had a seasonal camper on Lobster Lake just west of Alexandria for more than two decades now. I grew up fishing that lake, and it was nothing to catch 20-30 northerns on a good opener and throughout the early season.

Fish populations certainly fluctuate in all lakes, but it was eye opening being on Lobster this past weekend under these calm, sunny conditions and really seeing how clear the lake has gotten. Zebra mussels were confirmed in Lobster Lake in 2014.

Jack Albert Northern.jpg
Alexandria 9-year-old Jack Albert with a northern pike he caught. Albert loves catching all types of fish. He just moved to the Alexandria area with his family and is excited to start some new traditions on the annual walleye and northern pike opener in Minnesota. (Contributed photo)


We were able to catch a few northerns on Lobster on Saturday morning with my 8-year-old daughter and 9-year-old nephew in the boat as we worked a little deeper and switched from trolling with our gas outboard motor to the quieter electric motor. But even catching a typically aggressive fish like northerns has gotten more difficult in recent years.

“The one thing that I don’t think has changed a lot is if you look at that 7-14 foot depth, that’s always been a pretty good depth early in the year,” Frisch said. “Those fish are still in that depth range. The difference is a lot of times you can see them with the naked eye swimming out ahead of the boat. I always look at it this way -- if the fish can see the boat, he’s probably not going to bite. I don’t think the early-season location has changed as much as I think you just need to get your bait away from the boat.”

Like Scegura, Frisch is optimistic about the coming weeks. It just might take getting creative on some of these lakes as waters continue to warm and the bite heats up.

Jeremy Scegura holds up a nice walleye caught during the 2021 Minnesota fishing opener. (Contributed photo)

“The water temperatures are a little warmer than normal (on opener), which I think plays well,” Frisch said. “The Alexandria lakes area has a lot of fisheries with good fish populations right now. I think we’re going to have a pretty good walleye bite here for the next month. That classic 1/8-ounce jig with a minnow cast way out away from the boat is deadly right now.”


Eric Morken

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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