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On Fish Lake and beyond, Minnesota’s fishing season came with fillets in skillets |

On Fish Lake and beyond, Minnesota’s fishing season came with fillets in skillets

And he hadn’t left the dock.

Frielund, of Duluth, had caught the 15-inch walleye from the dock at his family’s cabin on Fish Lake early Saturday, opening day of the long-awaited Minnesota fishing season. He had missed two other fish.

So, he had reason to be somewhat optimistic when three other pancake-fed anglers climbed into the boat to fish with him for the rest of the morning. Joining him were his dad, Al Frielund, 77, of Duluth, and friend Butch Curran, 78, of Island Lake. This is an opening-day tradition for the Frielund clan, who have had a cabin on Fish Lake since 1981.

Fishing near us during the morning were Lukan Hanson, 16, Andrew’s nephew, and his friend Tyler Tedlund, 21, both of Duluth.

Some 500,000 anglers were expected to be out for the opener, a day circled far in advance on most anglers’ calendars. A week of warm and sunny days had anglers all but quivering to get on the water. But in the Duluth area, the weather had made a 180-degree turnabout after the gorgeous week. The wind had switched on Saturday, and it was a layer-up morning for anglers on Fish Lake.

“We had a west wind for several days,” Andrew Frielund growled. “Now we have an east wind.”

How fish can sense an east wind living 10 or 20 feet below the surface is not completely understood. But they know. And an east wind is an angler’s least favorite. Fish Lake’s walleyes probably had been gorging themselves all week. Saturday morning, many of them had gone to their rooms to pout, it seemed. They were largely unwilling to offer themselves up for the open-fire fish fry the Frielunds always host on opening day.

Frielund had rigged several rods with slip-bobbers and leeches. We were fishing just off the bottom in 12 feet of water along a shoreline. Quiet reigned.

“My bobber isn’t doing anything, Andrew,” Curran said.

“Neither are the three I’m watching,” he replied.

We scooted to another spot on the lake and found no better results. We pulled up and zoomed to an island of cattails and dropped minnows and leeches in 8 feet of water. It wasn’t long before Frielund’s rod tip began bowing to the lake.

“Wanta get the net, Butchie?” he said.

Frielund’s fish put up a strong fight in the 57-degree water. It fought like a walleye — and there it was, the first long, green fuselage gliding beneath the surface and a creamy-tipped tail following. Nice walleye.

Curran missed Frielund’s walleye on his first swipe of the net — it’s early in the season — but his second scoop netted the flopping 21-incher. Frielund had taken it on a slip-bobber and minnow. We would love to have put it in the livewell, but under special regulations on Fish Lake, all walleyes less than 13 inches long or over 17 inches long must must be immediately released, except that anglers may keep one walleye over 26 inches in a limit of three fish. Back it went.

We could tell you about the two perch that Curran caught or the half-dozen northern pike we caught while trolling crankbaits. But walleyes steal the show on the Minnesota opener, and no more walleyes chose to play our little opening-day game.

St. Louis River action

Meanwhile, on the St. Louis River, the usual gangs of anglers turned out for the east-wind-fest there. Some found fish, some had tough days, said Dave Nelson, president of the Twin Ports Walleye Association.

Nelson was out with his mom, Kathleen Roach, and her husband, Don “Doc” Roach, who live on Island Lake. Fishing with night crawlers and spinner rigs, they caught four keepers and released a few smaller walleyes, Nelson said.

“It was definitely slower upriver (above Boy Scout Landing) and better downriver,” Nelson said.

They caught most of their fish in about 6 feet of water.

Nelson’s brother, Charlie Nelson, had a good day fishing farther downriver. He and anglers in his boat caught more than 20 walleyes, including a 29-incher and a 25-incher, trolling night crawlers and spinners in 5 feet of water, he said.

Hot skillet

Back at the Frielund cabin on Fish Lake at midday, the extended clan had gathered and the fire was hot. Fortunately, Frielund had some crappie fillets set aside for the big fish fry — and some venison sausage. A neighbor, Brian Bosley, showed up with more crappie fillets. Other family members chipped in with tasty side dishes.

Frielund brought out a cowboy-sized frying pan and poured in some oil. With his brother-in-law, Darin Hanson, assisting, they turned out batch after batch of crisp fillets, onion rings and breaded potato slices. Nobody was shy. They stepped up and loaded up.

The fire smelled good.

The opening-day tradition was carried on for another year.

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