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Local bait shops fishing for anglers

Ken Vogel

It looks like local bait and tackle shops will once again be getting the cold shoulder from Mother Nature for this weekend’s fishing opener. Department of Natural Resources assistant area supervisor, Kelly McQuiston, said that area lakes remain ice covered, and will require a boat-load of warmth before winters grip gives way to ideal fishing conditions.

“It’s remarkable, as of May 4 Dumbbell Lake had 24 inches of ice. We are currently checking Slate Lake and other lakes with rivers running through them,” McQuiston said, “some of those may be fishable.”

DNR enforcement area supervisor, Lt. Dan Thomasen said that some of the roads ordinarily used to access the more remote lakes will also play a part in preventing anglers from filling their stringers.

“In the Isabella area and over into Cook county there are forest roads that are still impassible,” he said, adding that as recently as last weekend one of the officers in Cook County was checking snowmobilers. Meanwhile, business owners have been trying to go with the flow, although hard water makes for hard times for bait shops during the spring tradition.

“Opening weekend is crucial,” said Teresa Aho, who operates Maple Grove Motel and Bait in Finland with her brother, Todd. “From opener to Memorial Day is when we get a majority of our business.”

Dave Pirsig, who owns Scales and Tales Sports in Beaver Bay, agreed recalling the opener of 2013.

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“Last year things didn’t really pick up until after the Fourth of July,” he said, “it hurt because May and June should be our busiest time of the year.” With that in mind, both Aho and Persig are making careful plans. Pirsig said he’ll have ample supplies of bait and tackle for the weekend but will order cautiously.

“Last year on opening weekend we sold one dozen minnows and a box of shotgun shells,” he said, “this year I will make sure to have all the basics but I can’t afford to go overboard with extra supplies.”

Down the road in Two Harbors, Leroy Vaness of Vaness Bait and Tackle said that Lake Superior and stream fisherman provide a good part of his business, but the smaller lakes are proving stubborn.

“The steelhead and loopers are just getting started. They will get progressively better from here on out,“ but, he said, “we still have between two and three feet of ice (on the smaller lakes). It’s pulling away from the edges but none of them are anywhere near ready to open up.” Vaness, like his northern Finland and Beaver Bay counterparts, is also hoping for a good year after a soggy 2013 opener.

“Last year was terrible. The first part of the summer is usually the best for business.” Vaness reported sales were down significantly and “once it’s gone you can’t make it back up.” To stay afloat, he’s found that diversification helps.

“I have been busy with boat and outboard repair,” he said and since people have been taking their water toys out of storage, business has been good.

“We are getting a lot of people that want to get their boats ready. Some are in need of work; others just need to be water ready. We fix most everything and anything so it keeps us busy.”

All area bait shops plan to have plenty of live bait and will be open to greet anglers. As far as landing that first keeper of the year, the DNR Enforcement Division cautions that lake ice and even some road conditions may make the opener challenging, if not hazardous. The DNR is urging everyone to use common sense and stay safe.

“While it may be tempting to venture out on the ice the DNR cautions people to put safety first,” Thomasen said.