An early spring with warm temperatures, and early ice-outs on lakes, had Minnesota anglers fired up and optimistic about fishing opener success last weekend — and at least on Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota — despite a late-week cold front — the action Saturday, May 9 did not disappoint.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 68th annual Governor’s Fishing Opener near Tower, where media, local dignitaries, area residents, and of course, Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton (top photo, second from left). gather to celebrate the opening of fishing season for the state’s prized fish, the walleye. Of course, other species are up for grabs, too, but it is the walleye many crave for how pleasing it is to the palate!
The event is really a celebration of not only fishing, but gives attendees a taste of all the Iron Range area has to offer. There was a tour of the Bois Forte Heritage Center, the Soudan Underground Mine, tours of Lake Vermilion, the new Lake Vermilion State Park Campground, a Kids Fishing Event, and a free Community Picnic with activities in Tower.
Our “guide for the day,” Al Williams, who has owned a cabin on Vermilion for many years, met myself and freelance writer Barrie Barringer at the dock on the cloudy, cool upper 30s morning. After a short jaunt to our first spot on this beautiful lake, we eagerly snatched some minnows from the minnow bucket, and began trolling.
Just a few, quick facts on Vermilion. The Ojibwe originally called the lake Onamuni, which means “Lake of the Sunset Glow.” French fur traders translated this to the Latin word Vermilion, which is a red pigment. The entire region was mined for iron ore from the late 19th century until the 1960s, and the Soudan Mine operated just south of the lake. Hence, this entire region is referred to as the Iron Range.The lake has 40,000 acres of water, 365 islands, 1,200 miles of shoreline, and it stretches 40 miles across the heart of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region.
Back to the fishing. It wasn’t too long before Al and Bernie both boated a couple of smaller walleyes, while I kept busy (and warm) reeling up when they had a fish on, going for the net, and getting them new minnows. For some reason, ol’ marble eyes were not attracted to my 3/8-ounce chartreuse jig, plastic body and fathead minnow. We tried a few different spots and THEY had steady action. Finally, I picked off three in a row … smaller ones though, but still fun. We tried different depths, but mainly had success fishing in 30 feet of water on a mud flat. And the water temp gauge on the fish finder seemed to be stuck on 48 degrees.
When it was time to head in for the “shore lunch,” at the event headquarters on the shores of Fortune Bay Casino, we tallied about 15 walleyes with about five keepers.
After a great lunch of a fried walleye and the trimmings, I hiked back to retrieve another sweatshirt because the wind was starting to pick up, and the sun was still nowhere to be found.
Al, an affable and savvy angler, took us to a few new places to try to find bigger fish. However, it seemed that everywhere we went, the size of the walleyes didn’t vary greatly. When we fished near other boats, the size of walleyes they were pulling in mirrored ours, too. Later in the afternoon, I did set the hook on our biggest walleye of the day, a 21-incher, and that had us thinking we may have found some bigger fish, but we were wrong.
As our time on the water was ending, we went back to our hot spot from earlier in the day and were able to put a couple more fish in the live well.
In all, we caught about 30 walleyes, 1 perch, and had 11 keepers.
The folks who put on the event from Explore Minnesota did a fantastic job of hosting/helping anglers, and the staff at Fortune Bay Casino was very hospitable, going the extra mile to make all the anglers feel at home.
If you are ever visiting northern Minnesota, Tower is about 222 miles north of Minneapolis, I highly recommend staying at Fortune Bay or one of the many other resorts on this beautiful lake. You will not be disappointed.
Now, that I’ve had my first taste of walleye fishing for the year, I can’t wait to get out there again!
By the way, anglers, is there any better feeling in the world then to set the hook on a bigger walleye and have to “pump it up,” from the deep?
I think not!
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