The end of March and the first part of April have certainly been the "lion" as opposed to the "lamb" when it comes to weather. Those few, and I mean FEW, days of warm temperatures, rain and wind opened the lakes much earlier than last year. If that wouldn't have happened, I bet we would still have ice-covered lakes.
That's the good news! However, Mother Nature did send us a few of her quirks, like jamming huge chunks of ice in several spots along the shores of Big Spirit. That put dock building and hoist setting on hold for a while. Plus, West Okoboji just wouldn't quite open up. It wasn't until Friday that the lake was finally free of all the ice.
The other lakes in the chain and Center Lake had lots of dock and hoist work going on by the end of March.
Of course, we had our brush with a big blizzard that just didn't quite come together here.
As I travel around the lakes, it's good to see water running into Big Spirit and some water going over the spillway into East Okoboji. It's always good to see the lakes full in the spring, because we know what summer can bring.
The DNR's walleye gill netting should get going earlier than last year's April 16 date. Plans are for the netting to maybe begin this week if we can get water temperatures to rise. Once netting begins, it will last between 1-2 weeks.
During the seining operation, the Fish Hatchery will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The public is invited to visit the hatchery during those hours and take a self-guided tour of the spawning operation. For groups that might want a guided tour, contact Wendy Sander at 712-336-1840.
With the early ice-out, we're all looking forward to The Annual Great Walleye Weekend scheduled for May 2 and 3. The walleye opener is part of a two-day fishing tournament that benefits Easter Seals that last year raised over $17,000 with proceeds supporting Easter Seals programs for residents in Dickinson County and the surrounding area who have a disability.
The action officially begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, May 2, and concludes with an awards ceremony and barbecue on Sunday, May 3 at the Dickinson County Expo Building.
The big prize of $10,000 goes to the individual who catches one of the six specially tagged walleyes released in the area lakes just prior to the event. However, if more than one tagged walleye is taken, the $10,000 is equally divided.
Additionally, 18 other tagged fish are released, each with cash or merchandise awards assigned to them if caught. Anglers who catch a tagged fish can report to any Lakes Area bait shop for confirmation.
So, what will the fishing be like?
According to DNR fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins, Big Spirit continues to have a strong year class of 15-20 inch fish coming through the system with many of them now recruited into the slot limit. With the slot limit in place on the entire Iowa Great Lakes chain, there is no minimum length limit and anglers are now able to keep walleyes below that 17-inch slot. Any walleyes taken between 17-22 inches must be immediately released with only one walleye over 22 inches per day.
Spirit Lake, of course, seems to be the popular walleye lake and will most likely see the most angling pressure. The numbers are good and the baitfish, especially the spottail shiners, are in excellent shape.
At the same time, the 2007-year class is potentially the next big year class. Now in that 10-12 inch length, these will be the most aggressive biters. According to Hawkins, it usually takes four years for a year class to reach that 14-inch length that used to be the minimum length limit. Now, these fish can be kept with the idea that this will help recruit the year class grow more quickly.
According to Hawkins, the broodstock is good on East Okoboji. One of the interesting data pieces collected by the DNR is that many of the broodstock collected for spawning actually migrates from West Okoboji to the warmer waters in the rest of the chain. Hawkins also noted that East Okoboji and West Okoboji also have a good 2007-year class coming. Typically, the May fishing on East Okoboji deals with a lot of small fish.
The West Okoboji walleye population is good but, of course, catching walleyes during the day on West Okoboji is always tough because of its water clarity. In recent years, the DNR has stocked West Okoboji with a significant number of 8-10 inch fish. This should mean we will see these fish recruited to catchable size sooner.
So, things look good. Now we just need some help from Mother Nature to get the water temperature up and the fish to be ready for opener as much as the anglers will be!
If you are looking for a little fishing information, check with local bait shops such as Oh Shucks Bait and Tackle on the southwest side of West Okoboji, Stan's Bait and Tackle at the north edge of Milford, Fisherman's Factory Outlet, Kabele's Trading Post and Pioneer Beach Resort all in the town of Spirit Lake.