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DNR: Play it safe as early boating season gets underway

Many lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota are now ice-free, and those where ice remains likely will be open in the near future. People are understandably eager to hit the water, but it remains dangerously cold. That means it’s vital for people to exercise extreme caution whenever they’re on or around the water.

Each year, about 30 percent of fatal boating accidents in Minnesota occur during the cold-water period.

“Our boating season in Minnesota is limited, so we know people want to spend every moment they can on open water,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “But even among the strongest of swimmers, a fall into the water in April is far more dangerous than the same fall in July because of the incapacitating effects of cold water.”

As boaters begin taking their first trips of the year onto the water, they should:

• Ensure their boat is equipped with proper safety equipment and that it’s all functioning properly;

• Wear a life jacket (foam is more effective than inflatables during the cold-water season). A life jacket is the one thing most likely to help people survive a fall into cold water;

• Distribute weight evenly and abide by manufacturer’s weight limits to reduce the likelihood of falling overboard;

• Have a means of communication. Boaters also should let other people know where they’re going and when they plan to return; and

• Watch the weather to avoid shifting winds or storms.

For more information about staying safe on or around cold water, visit the DNR’s cold water dangers page at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/cold-water.html.

Minnesota’s fishing opener is May 15 this year

Fishing seasons open for walleye, bass, trout in lakes, and northern pike on Saturday, May 15, with this year’s date taking the prize for the latest possible opener under Minnesota statute.

“We know there is some confusion about this year’s opener date,” said Jon Hansen, fisheries program consultant for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota statute sets the fishing opener as the Saturday two weeks prior to the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. This year, with Memorial Day the latest it can be, on May 31, that puts the fishing opener on Saturday, May 15.

Also related to May fishing, there is an error in the printed version of the Minnesota Fishing Regulations book regarding the dates for the 2021 Take a Mom Fishing Weekend.

The correct dates for this year’s Take a Mom Fishing Weekend—when Minnesota-resident moms can fish without purchasing a license—are Saturday, May 8, to Sunday, May 9. That special weekend is defined in Minnesota statutes as the weekend that coincides with Mother’s Day. Most years, under Minnesota law, the fishing opener and Take a Mom Fishing Weekend fall on the same weekend, but not this year.

“We encourage Minnesota moms to get out and fish for free on May 8 and 9,” Hansen said. “Even though the walleye season won’t be open, there are still plenty of fun and easy fishing opportunities for crappie, sunfish, or even under-appreciated fish like buffalo, sucker, bullhead or sheepshead.”

Fishing season dates, and the corrected Minnesota Fishing Regulations handbook, are available online at mndnr.gov/fishing.