Late Spring Leaves Little Bait for Fishing Opener

Updated: 05/08/2013 6:20 AM By: Katherine Johnson

Minnows aren't used to getting much attention opening week but this year is very different.

"For the first time in history of the fishing industry we don't have leeches," said Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle owner Josh Stevenson.

Leeches are nearly impossible to find throughout the entire state. Bait companies can't get out to trap leeches on ice covered lakes up north and luring them in with food is tough thanks to the winter fish kill.

Last year, Stevenson had 300 pounds of leeches in his now dry and empty tanks.

"It's really tough when a customer comes in with a bucket and they want leeches and I can't talk them into minnows," he said. "They just walk out the door. You're losing business overall."

Stevenson estimates he's out $10,000 so far, during his biggest week of the year.

"Right now I'll take a little baby leech just to say I have leeches! I'd take a baby leech for a sunfish right now but I can't even say I have that!"

Hatchery tanks are empty, too.

"We got eggs in early April, last year, so that's already a month behind," said DNR Fisheries Specialist Donn Schraeder.

Walleye and musky are only now starting to spawn so the DNR is asking anglers to catch and release this opening weekend to protect the future population.

"If you're taking fish that have eggs in them they can't lay their eggs before you're taking them," said Schraeder.

There is a silver lining.  Schraeder says Northern Pike should be done spawning, if you're interested in anything other than walleye and musky.  Stevenson says minnows can outperform leeches in colder water like we're seeing now.

Meanwhile, the ice on the lakes in Northern Minnesota is hurting businesses across that portion of the state.

As of last check, the Governor's Fishing Opener in Park Rapids is still set for this coming weekend.

The hope is to fish on some of the big lakes in that area. But, organizers tell KSTP there is a plan B in place in case the ice remains.

Anglers can still use smaller lakes in that area that have iced out and the river is also open to boats.

But, even with the opener approaching some businesses are still suffering.

The owner of one resort in Park Rapids told KSTP they usually have twenty people booked for the opener weekend. But, this year with the ice they have zero people booked.

Lake Mille Lacs is still covered in ice and that could mean a new record.

The latest ice out for Lake Mille Lacs is May 7.