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Promising outlook for 2004 fishing season
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Thousands of anglers in Minnesota are preparing for this year's fishing season, which begins for most species Saturday. (MPR file photo)

Undated — Minnesota's fishing season opens May 15 for walleye, northern pike and inland lake trout. The bass opener is May 29 for most of the state, and the muskie opener is June 5.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty will celebrate the 56th annual Governor's Fishing Opener on Lake of the Woods, with headquarters at Sportsman's Lodge in Baudette. His guide will be Tim Lyon of Ballard's Resort.

If fish populations are any indicator, anglers who ply the state's large lakes have a good chance of success on the 2004 fishing opener, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Many of the state's best-known lakes have strong walleye and northern pike populations, thanks to favorable spawning conditions in the past five to 10 years. In addition, experimental regulations, which tend to protect mature fish, may be contributing to better quality fishing on some lakes.

"Whether we get a good bite on the opener is another question," said DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer. "That depends on water temperature, and mostly, the weather. But it looks like the fish will be there."

Whether we get a good bite on the opener ... depends on water temperature, and mostly, the weather. But it looks like the fish will be there.
- Ron Payer, DNR

Water levels on many northern lakes are low, and anglers could have trouble launching boats at some accesses, said Sam Johnson, DNR trails and waterways supervisor in Grand Rapids.

"I'd suggest they bring waders," Johnson said. "And I'd tell them to call ahead to a resort or the DNR before hauling their boat to a certain site and having trouble launching it."

As is often the case, several lakes and streams, mostly in far northeastern Minnesota, will be closed on the opener to protect spawning walleyes.

Among the changes in Minnesota fishing regulations for 2004:

-Lake Mille Lacs walleye anglers will be able to keep bigger fish this year. During the first two months of the season, anglers will be allowed to keep walleyes under 20 inches and one over 28 inches. Starting July 15, anglers can keep walleyes under 22 inches, with one over 28 inches. On Dec. 1, size restrictions return to the opening day limits. The daily bag limit for Mille Lacs will be four fish for the entire season.

-A trout stamp is now $10 for resident and nonresident anglers. The sports license fee also went up, to $30.50 for individuals and $39.50 for a married couple.

-While on waters with size restrictions, all fish for which the size restriction applies must have their heads, tails, fins and skin intact and be measurable.

-Anglers are allowed one lake sturgeon per license year between 45 and 50 inches, or one fish over 75 inches. Once such a fish has been caught, anglers must sign and date their license. The season is from April 24 to May 7 and July 1 to Sept. 30. To minimize harm to sturgeon that are caught and released, anglers are not allowed to use a gaff while fishing on the Rainy River.

-On North Dakota border waters, there is no longer a spring walleye and northern pike season with size limits and lower possession limits. Instead, there will be continuous seasons for northern pike and walleye, each with a possession limit of three.

-The new possession limits on South Dakota border waters are 10 crappie, 10 sunfish, and four walleye with only one walleye over 20 inches.

-New restrictions apply on fishing from boats on Lake Superior from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. Only angling from shore will be allowed from the mouth of Chester Creek to the outermost portion of the northwest arm of the Duluth ship channel during this period. The new regulation corresponds with the existing closure for lake trout. Anglers have sometimes targeted this area for salmon. The new regulation is meant to reduce the incidental harvest of lake trout that congregate in this area to spawn.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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