Minnesota’s general inland fishing season starts at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 13, for walleye, northern pike and bass, although bass fishing south and west of U.S. Highway 53 is catch-and-release only until May 27.
Panfish fishing, including perch, sunfish and crappies, is allowed all year. Musky season starts June 3. Fishing on Lake Superior for salmon and some trout runs all year. North Shore stream fishing for rainbow trout is allowed all year. Brook trout fishing opened April 16.
As of Wednesday, most lakes in northern Minnesota still had some ice on them, but many should lose their ice over the next week. Ice-out had progressed as far north as some Brainerd-area lakes and photographs showed ice pulling away from shore on Winnibigoshish and even Upper Red Lake at midweek.
The exception appears to be lakes in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region, which remain stubbornly locked in ice, with snow on the ground in the woods still.
The most current information will come from local bait shops, lodges or residents on a lake. A statewide, interactive map showing lake ice-out status is available at dnr.state.mn.us/ice_out/index.html. Note the map may not show up-to-the-minute data.
Minnow shortage all summer?
It seems every spring there is talk of a live bait shortage as the fishing opener approaches, and this year, with such a tough winter and late ice-out, is no exception.
Heavy snow on top of the ice on minnow-rearing ponds in west-central Minnesota blocked sunlight and caused a decrease in oxygen, and many ponds suffered winterkill, said Marshall Koep, owner of Urbank Bait in Clitherall, Minn., one of the state’s oldest and largest wholesale bait dealers.
That will mean fewer popular minnows like chubs and fatheads.
“We got a late start because of the ice. We just started getting into some open water this week and we’re seeing a lot of winterkill. Everybody is. There’s going to be a minnow shortage all summer until fall, anyhow,” Koep said. “This is back-to-back years now with far fewer minnows than we should have.”
Koep said some ponds are producing fewer than one-fourth the number of minnows expected and that he’s not sure yet if he will get minnows to all of his usual bait shop customers before the May 13 walleye opener. Koep’s also dealing with higher fuel prices for trucks, higher rent for ponds and higher wages for employees.
Lake shiners also may be in short supply because even where ice has gone out, the water is too cold for shiners to spawn near shore on the big lakes where bait dealers trap them.
Koep’s advice: Buy your bait a little early and, like everything else these days, expect to pay a little more.
Docks and water levels
Even if your lake does lose its ice by May 13, the late spring means it’s unlikely crews will have had time to install docks on all lakes. Bring waders or rubber boots to help launch the boat. Meanwhile, a winter of heavier snow and recent spring rains have helped raise water levels, in some cases to very high or even near-flood levels.
Mothers fish free, and can win prizes
As usual, all mothers in Minnesota can fish for free over Mother’s Day weekend, May 13-14. New this year, moms can participate in the Mother’s Day weekend fishing challenge sponsored by the DNR. Moms must first join the Minnesota Moms Fishing Challenge Facebook group and then submit one photo of each fish they catch.
All participants who submit a fish will be entered in a random drawing for prizes provided by the Student Anglers Organization, including Scheels gift cards.
Get your fishing license online, by phone or in person
Check out various license options — individual, senior, husband-wife, hunting/fishing combination — and buy your license at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html, by calling 888-665-4236 or at many sporting goods stores statewide. The basic resident adult fishing license for a year is $25 and $51 for nonresidents.
Don’t forget your boat license
To avoid a delay in receiving your three-year boat sticker, boaters are encouraged to renew registrations online or at a local deputy registrar’s office rather than by mail. If they renew online, they can print out the confirmation page to use as their temporary permit. Boaters also may write down their temporary authorization number from the confirmation page. The registration card and expiration decals will then be mailed to the boat owner.
Renew at dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html.
Of 162 fish species, walleye (of course) is the most popular
Some 162 species of fish can be found in Minnesota waters. The DNR says walleye are the most sought-after fish in Minnesota by anglers, followed by northern pike and muskie, then panfish, bass, crappie and trout.
Most walleyes aren’t stocked
Protecting and restoring natural fish habitat supports the millions of naturally reproduced fish caught by anglers each year. For example, the DNR says roughly 85% of the walleye caught and kept by anglers are the product of natural reproduction, from lakes and rivers where walleye grow naturally.
Lots of lakes
Minnesota has 11,842 lakes that are 10 or more acres in size, 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes. There are more than 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, including 3,800 miles of trout streams.
Find a fishing lake on the mobile app, online
Get lake-specific information — regulations, fish species, stocking reports, boat landing locations and lake maps — at maps1.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefinder/mobile. Search by lake name, by region on a map or find lakes near where you are.
1 million-plus anglers
Minnesota sold just over 1 million fishing licenses last year. That number has been fairly consistent between 1 million and 1.2 million over the past 20 years. The state is believed to have about 1.4 million anglers when older seniors and children who don’t need licenses are factored in. About 500,000 people are believed to fish on opening day, although that number has never been vetted.
Know the regulations
- To fish in Minnesota, all anglers 16 years or older are required to buy a Minnesota fishing license.
- A trout stamp is required to fish (for any species) in designated trout water or to harvest trout from any water.
- Minnesota fishing regulations, including those new for 2023, and more information can be found in the Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet available wherever licenses are sold at mndnr.gov/fishing.
- The DNR has translated the state’s 2023 fishing regulations into Hmong, Karen, Somali and Spanish: the four most commonly spoken languages, apart from English, in Minnesota.
- New limits for gar are in effect this year. Anglers, spearers and bowfishers have a new possession limit in 2023 of up to 10 gar — the toothy, prehistoric fish native to Minnesota waters. The gar regulation change is part of a larger effort to sustainably manage gar and other native fish including buffalo, sucker, freshwater drum, bowfin, goldeye and bullhead, because these fish are critical contributors to aquatic ecosystems.