It’s said that nearly 500,000 anglers will take to Minnesota waters on the annual walleye and northern pike opener in the state, and the Alexandria area has no shortage of productive waters to offer those anglers.
Stowe Lake in western Douglas County fits the criteria that a lot of people are looking for this time of year -- a smaller body of water with a little warmer water temperatures and plenty of fish to go after. Trucks and boat trailers were already lining the gravel road just off the public landing on Stowe at 6:15 Saturday morning as a line of boats waited to back in.
Anglers in the area were greeted with sunny skies and winds that picked up steadily out of the southeast as the morning went on.
“The bite was not bad,” Doug Cardwell of Donnelly said. “It was a little choppy. We had to zig zag our way through some boats, but the walleyes were biting pretty good.”
Cardwell was fishing with his son, Brady Cardwell, and Philip Messner of Hancock. They had a few walleyes to bring home for the frying pan, and they went after them with a little different approach. Most target these early-season walleyes with a jig and a minnow -- shiners preferably for many -- but the Cardwells and Messner have consistent success with Lindy Rigs and nightcrawlers this time of year, too.
“We’ve always fished for walleyes with Lindy Rigs and crawlers,” Brady said. “It’s something different, and most of the time it works. It’s a little bit slower approach.”
Stowe Lake was the second stop of the season already for this group. They fit the mold of the eager anglers who don’t want to waste a minute of opening day as they started the season on Pomme de Terre Lake in Grant County during the dark of night.
“I always like getting out right at midnight,” Messner said. “We were out right away, but it wasn’t until 2:30 that we caught the first one. It was 24 inches, so it was a big fish.”
Gary Radziej and Scott Vickerman saw similar success as they came off of Stowe at about 11 a.m. Not a fast and furious bite, but plenty of action to keep things interesting.
“It was good,” Vickerman said. “We caught a lot of crappies yesterday, so that was fun. Today, we only fished a couple hours and caught six, seven walleyes. One decent one. We put them all back because we have plenty of fish.”
For Vickerman, from Wayzata, and Radziej, of Minnetonka, catching fish is just part of the fun of opening day. They have a group of guys who no matter the weather or the bite are eager to start a new season on open water again.
“I think opener, you make the best of it,” Radziej said. “We’ve fished in 20 degrees with wind, and we’ve caught fish then, too. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but it’s a tradition that our whole group of guys has embraced.”
That group comes to Alexandria to both hunt in the fall and fish a lot throughout the year. The last couple days for Radziej and Vickerman epitomize what the area has to offer anglers as they filled the frying pan with crappies one day before shifting their focus to walleyes the next.
“We’ve been fishing together since we were kids, do a lot of ice fishing,” Radziej said. “We kind of like the variety of lakes up here because you always have an option for wind or having different places you can go. It’s never the same, but the fishing is always consistently well above average.”
Saturday is just the beginning. Water temperatures on Stowe were right at 50 degrees. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 70s almost all of next week. The bite wasn’t bad on opener, and it figures to only pick up in the area as the water warms in the coming week.
“We’d like to have it a little warmer,” Doug Cardwell said. “Opener was not bad. We caught some fish, but once it gets a little warmer, they’ll bite a little bit better.”