The following article is a general outlook for the 2021 fishing opener in the Fergus Falls area. With the fishing opener less than six weeks away, many avid anglers are already preparing their gear and contemplating which species and lake(s) they should target. Here are some things to consider while preparing. As of late March, area lakes still have plenty of ice, but it is becoming soft. Long-range forecasts are predicting normal to above-normal air temperatures in the next few weeks. Ice-out should be about average this year, therefore, walleye spawning activities should occur during the normal time-frame in mid to late April. Anglers should expect to find walleyes in post-spawn conditions by the May 15 fishing opener. Male walleyes may be actively feeding during this period and will likely be in shallow water areas while larger female walleyes may still be recovering from spawning activities. Generally speaking, anglers should expect good walleye fishing on area lakes during the 2021 season as several strong natural year classes and supplemental stockings have established abundant Walleye populations. Small, shallow lakes are usually popular for the opener because the water temperatures will be warmer and the fish more active. Some traditional favorites for the opener include Walker, Anna, South Ten Mile, Orwell and Fish lakes. Some larger, deeper lakes that presently have strong year classes of harvestable Walleyes include Pickerel, Eagle, Otter Tail, Pelican, and the Pine Lakes. Anglers should be aware that there is an 18 to 26 inch protected slot size limit for walleye on Big and Little Pine lakes.
Northern pike should be feeding actively as they spawn earlier than walleyes. Most of the large lakes in the area consistently produce above-average sized pike. Some smaller lakes that anglers may want to check-out for nice northern pike include Clitherall, Anna, Jolly Ann, Pleasant and Long (Vergas) lakes. Anglers are reminded of the northern pike slot length limit. The bag limit is 10 with not more than two over 26 inches. All pike from 22 to 26 inches must be released.
Panfish opportunities may be a viable option if the walleye and northern pike are not cooperating. Many area lakes presently support abundant populations of sunfish and black crappie with good size structures. Several of these lakes include Adley, Rush, Dead, Jewett, and the Leaf lakes. Anglers targeting sunfish need to be aware of 13 lakes in the area with reduced daily bag limits that were implemented on March 1. The intent of the reduced bag limits is to maintain or improve the size structures of sunfish in lakes that have historically produced quality populations. Lakes with a five sunfish daily bag limit include West Silent, Franklin, Bass, Fish by Weetown, and Fish by Parkers Prairie. Lakes with a 10 sunfish daily bag limit include East Lost, West Lost, Deer, Wall, Red River, Prairie, Stuart, and Long by Vergas. The statewide possession limit for sunfish still applies for these lakes.
The largemouth and smallmouth bass angling seasons will also begin on the May 15 opener; however, it is catch and release only until May 29. Most area lakes consistently produce abundant largemouth bass populations. Anglers interested in smallmouth bass should look to Pickerel, South Ten Mile, North Lida and Lizzie lakes. Anglers interested in a float fishing trip should consider the Otter Tail River, as it has a renowned catch and release only smallmouth bass fishery.
For anglers wanting to try something unique in the area for the opener, Bass Lake in Maplewood State Park is an option for trout fishing. Bass Lake is stocked annually with Rainbow Trout. Anglers are reminded that a state park permit and a trout stamp are required to fish Bass Lake. The use of live minnows for bait is prohibited and the bag limit is five with not more than three over 16 inches in length.
Steve Kubeny is a Fish and Wildlife fisheries specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.