The 2020 fishing season was unique for everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fishing license sales were higher than they’d been for almost 10 years and subsequently fishing pressure was high with full boat ramp parking lots. It’s likely that 2021 will be similar with high fishing pressure as people look to get out of the house.

“People have really embraced fishing as a ‘get back to your roots’ activity during the pandemic," said Scott Mackenthun, area supervisor, Hutchinson Area Fisheries. "As we slide back into societal normality and come out of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m curious to see if the fishing peak will last. Will the lakes be busy, will families keep getting out with kids, will retailers sell out of angling inventory? We saw a roughly 10% increase in fishing license sales and the big question is will it be sustained, increase, or decrease? We’re expecting the fishing to be good and we’re hoping people continue getting outside and enjoying some time wetting a line.”

Locally, ice out was as early as it’s been for years, with all lakes fully open before April 1. This gives plenty of time for the water to warm and could produce some very good sunfish and crappie fishing this spring. This year's fishing opener — Saturday, May 15 — is a week later than normal due to May 2021 have five weekends.

“Anglers will do well on this late fishing opener with a lot of different baits or techniques," Mackenthun said. "It’s hard to beat fresh shiners or minnows, or a pulling a leech or nightcrawler around. Casting and trolling crankbaits works well, too, when fish are active and feeding in late spring. Early indications are that bait trappers will have a little bit of everything ready.”

The drought from last year has had lasting effects into this spring as lake levels are still down 1-2 feet in many places. Luckily this hasn’t had much effect on winterkill. Only Winsted Lake had significant winterkill outside of small ponds. This year's fishing prospects should be good. No lakes stand out for that red hot bite, but walleye fishing should be steady at a number of lakes. bass fishing should be as good as always, but anglers should be advised that bass fishing has seen a rise in popularity in the past few years and subsequently many popular lakes can be very busy most weekends. This is a great opportunity to try a new lake, fish during the week, or fish for different species. The Minnesota River in the southern part of the Hutchinson DNR fisheries management area is always great for getting away from others and catching something unique.

Walleye: Walleye are still hanging shallow on emerging vegetation lines and flats across southern and central Minnesota. "When the wind kicks up on clear days, or when we get an overcast sky threatening rain, you can find walleyes feeding somewhere," Mackenthun said. "Check out outside weed edges, points and breaklines. They’ll move deeper as summer sets in and water temperatures warm, but early in the year, start shallow before moving deeper. Nighttime can be fantastic in wading depth water.”

For anglers looking for walleye, two lakes come to mind: In McLeod County, Lake Marion, south of Hutchinson, and in Meeker County, Big Swan, north of Hutchinson, offers numerous walleye more than 18 inches in length. Both of these lakes have had full parking lots for the past year and sampling results have shown that large numbers of fish are still present. Marion in particular has had a couple fantastic year classes of walleye that should produce good fishing. The future for Marion continues to look great with a banner year class produced in spring of 2020 from natural reproduction.

Stella and Manuella, south of Darwin, are also two lakes to try. Anglers reported a number of fish caught in both lakes last year and good fishing should continue. If anyone catches a tagged walleye in either Stella, Manuella or Washington, they should call the Hutchinson DNR office and report their catch. Belle Lake is another great walleye resource in the area. It’s one of the traditional walleye factories and both survey results and fishing reports have shown that it hasn’t slowed down. A final strong walleye candidate is Lake Minnie-Belle. Minnie-Belle is unique for the area and reminiscent of the northern woods with its clear waters and abundance of rooted aquatic plants. It can have some good walleye fishing, but anglers may need to mix up their strategies as Minnie-Belle is clearer than many other area lakes. A little farther afield is Koronis Lake (Stearns County), which offers plenty of walleye more than 15 inches. Diamond Lake (Kandiyohi County) walleye numbers are still doing with most fish now in the 17-22 inch length group. Other great fishing opportunities include moderate size (24-inch plus) northern pike, large bluegill (8 inch plus) and black crappie with many more than 10 inches. Point, Willmar, Foot, and Ringo Lakes (Kandiyohi County) are also worth a try for the walleye opener.

Bass: While Washington and Stella get most of the top press for bass fishing, there are many other lakes in the area that are just as good. For numbers of bass, Minnie-Belle and Francis both can provide some high number days. For those looking for a wall hanger, Jennie and Greenleaf both have the potential of 6-pound-plus fish. For a combination of both size and number Erie, Spring and Long by Dassel can all be good. Smallmouth bass are currently only in Stella, Manuella, Washington and Big Swan. Good numbers of smaller smallmouth bass were seen in Big Swan last fall during walleye electrofishing. All four lakes are great bets to hook up with a bronzeback. The majority of lakes in the Hutchinson area offer great bass fishing. Anglers should have their pick of both numbers and size with the variety of lakes.

Sunfish: With a growing focus on larger bluegills, the McLeod/Meeker county area has some opportunities for anglers. Jennie and Washington are both great lakes for anglers to take a shot at getting a true trophy 10-inch bluegill. Historically Jennie has produced the most 10-inch bluegill during surveys going back to 1993. Washington is also a great place to look for big bluegill. Many large bluegill were seen during spring nettings in 2017 and 2019. Because of their direct connection, Stella is also a good option for big bluegills. For anglers looking for the biggest sunfish in the area, Minnie-Belle and Collinwood both put out giant hybrid sunfish. An 11.5-inch hybrid sunfish was sampled in Minnie-Belle in 2019. Ripley in Litchfield and Clear in Watkins are also both great options for larger sunfish for a meal. Stahls is the best local option for numbers of small sunfish to keep the kids busy. In addition, a number of lakes in the area have good sunfish populations. Anglers are reminded that selective harvest is a great way to get a meal and preserve great panfishing by releasing large sunfish to spawn and in particular males that are important for nest guarding and passing down parental male genetics. Releasing the biggest sunfish and keeping 7-8-inch fish can preserve large sunfish opportunities for years to come.

Crappie: The Hutchinson area can offer some good crappie fishing for people looking for something for the frying pan. Belle and Swan Lake both have had good fishing for the past few years and anglers should be able to find some quality fish. For anglers looking for true giants, Minnie-Belle has the largest crappie in the area. Those anglers chasing big crappie on Minnie-Belle should be warned, they can be difficult to find. Washington and Stella are two lakes that can offer a little in between with both size and numbers. As always, Dunn’s and Richardson lakes are historical good crappie lakes and should continue to offer good crappie fishing into the future. Anglers may also encounter white crappie at either Dunn’s or Richardson. Finally, Clear Lake by New Ulm and Hanska are great options in the southern part of the Hutchinson DNR management area and may have some of the best crappie fishing for both size and numbers.

Northern Pike: The top northern pike fishing opportunity in the Hutchinson area for large-sized fish has to be Lake Minnie-Belle. Minnie-Belle has had a protective slot limit of 24 inches to 36 inches for more than 15 years now and as a result the size structure in Minnie-Belle is tremendous for large fish opportunity. There is potential for fish more than 40 inches at Minnie-Belle. Stella is another lake that anglers have the potential at a 40-inch fish. Anglers may not catch large numbers of fish, but the fish they do will likely be a quality size. Jennie and Collinwood also have some very nice fish, but also enough to keep you busy. For numbers of pike regardless of size, Clear Lake in Watkins and Round by Litchfield are both safe bets.

Other Species: Other options in the area include Little Mud Lake by Watkins for rainbow trout. rainbows are stocked every spring and fall. Betty, Marion and Swan Lake are all places anglers can target channel catfish. In addition, the Minnesota River is a great place for both channel catfish and flathead catfish. Otter Reservoir in Hutchinson is a great option for people to catch almost anything, especially with an abundance of shorefishing opportunities. Fort Ridgley, Spring (Hindeman), Ramsey, and Seven Mile creeks are all opportunities to catch stream trout in the Hutchinson area. All four streams are stocked in the spring with both rainbow and brown trout, except for Seven Mile, which is only stocked with brown trout.

Hutchinson DNR Fisheries staff perform management, habitat and oversight work for 94 fishing lakes and 38 rivers and streams in McLeod, Meeker, Sibley, Nicollet, Brown, Redwood, Renville and western Wright counties. For more information, call the Hutchinson Area Fisheries, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, at 320-753-0324 or visit dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/hutchinson/index.html.