It was calm on the St. Louis River early Saturday last weekend and you could hear Dylan Perbonich arguing with his buddies from 200 yards across the water.
"I told you it was a fish!" Prebonich yelled at his buddies sitting in the same 12-foot boat right near shore. They had argued it was a snag. "I know what a fish feels like!"
Of course his buddies, Evan and Jake Schaller, didn't believe them until they saw the 26.5-inch walleye on the surface.
"I told you!"' Prebonich said again, later noting he caught the fish on a pink jig and nightcrawler "First walleye of the season."
So started the Minnesota fishing opener on the wide, high and fast river in Duluth's Fond du Lac neighborhood, a Saturday morning that brought light winds and sunshine – the kind of opening day everyone agreed we had earned after a cold, snowy spring so far.
Just upstream, Kevin Sailor of Superior was on the Department of Natural Resources public fishing dock on the Minnesota side of the river, just off Minnesota Highway 23 near Perch Lake. He got there before sunrise and had the place to himself. It was 36 degrees and the sun was just inching high enough to notice.
"I was thinking about sleeping in this morning. But I couldn't do it. I had to get out and fish," said Sailor, who was trying a night crawler and spinner on one rod and a jig and minnow on the other, a legal system on the river. "I haven't got my boat ready yet so I thought, what the heck, I'll come here and fish from shore."
Sailor was using a pink and white spinner blade on a crawler harness.
"For some reason this seems to be the best color for me in the river," he said, quickly noting, however, that it hadn't performed any magic as yet. "I think the water is a little too cold."
That was the sentiment other shore anglers expressed up and down the river bank. Al Davis of Duluth confirmed it by casting a small fishing thermometer into the river and reeling it back.
"Only 45 degrees in eight feet of water out there. It should be warmer than that by now," said Davis as he sat in a folding chair staring at his rod tips, waiting for the telltale twitch of a walleye bite. It wasn't happening. "I've been fishing this spot since 1993. Usually it's pretty good. It might take a few days to warm up."
Ariana Carlson was fishing next to Davis with her friend, Jodeen Hutchings. By mid morning the pair had managed only a few suckers and a hefty carp.
"Disgusting things," Carlson said of the suckers. "I'm waiting for a walleye."
"But at least we didn't get skunked," Hutchings said.
Jim Watschke and his dad, John, were at their usual opening day spot on the river bank, along Water Street, at 5 a.m. – not necessarily to catch early fish but to make sure they got their favorite spot. It's been a 20-year tradition for the pair.
Because of the river's dark, bog-stained tint, many anglers say the fishing really doesn't get good until mid-morning when the sun is high in the sky.
"Every year you have to wait for the sun to come up over those trees before the fish start biting," Jim Watschke said. No sooner than the sun cleared the trees and he landed a feisty, 14-inch walleye, an inch under the legal limit to keep on the river.
Keeper fish were harder to come by.
"The river is really cranking today," he said, referring to the fast current "And it's high. There's a lot of stuff in the water. It's hard to fish when you have to keep pulling grass and sticks off your line."
"But the donuts and coffee are good," John chimed-in.
Farther upstream Bob Levy and Scott Klejewski, already had a pair of walleyes on a stringer – 21 and 18 inches long – by 10 a.m. The fish, which would be dinner, helped make the morning seem a little more fun for their group sitting along the riverbank
"It's always worth it," Klejewski said. "It doesn't matter if you catch a fish or not, it's fun to be out on opening day."
Randy Haugen got dropped off at the fishing dock near Perch Lake by 7:30 a.m. His ride wasn't coming back to pick him up until 6 p.m. He was sticking it out all day, even though he hadn't had a serious bite yet by noon. He'd brought four rods, a tackle box and a cooler. He had some leftover fried chicken to eat and both minnows and crawlers for bait.
He was set for the day. Set for opening day of fishing.
"Might as well be here. I love to fish. I fish all I can," said Haugen. "It beats being at work."
Last we saw him Haugen was staring up at his rod tip, waiting for that twitch.