By Mike Frisch
If you are a walleye angler like me, the opening day of Minnesota’s gamefish season, aka “the walleye opener,” is one of the year’s most-anticipated days! With that day just about here, having a good opening day/early season plan can mean the difference between spring fishing success and frustration.
Opening day success is often as much about choosing the “right lake” as it is about anything else. Because warm water usually means active early season walleyes, I like to start on a small, shallow lake. These lakes often have some “color” to their waters which, when combined with their shallow depths, often means warmer water.
When choosing a specific lake, I often consider a couple key factors. First, lakes that had good walleye bites last winter are often on the “uptick” when it comes to walleye populations and, I like tipping the odds for fishing success in my favor by targeting lakes with lots of fish.
Second, lakes that are traditional producers of early season walleyes will also get consideration. Some lakes just seem to be good fish-producers year-in and year-out during early season and, if those same lake’s produced last winter, all the better!
I usually start my early season search along the lake’s first drop-off where the shoreline flat drops into deeper water. Differences or irregularities along that edge, maybe small areas of emerging weeds, points or turns on the drop-off, or areas with harder bottom are spots that often congregate baitfish drawing in hungry spring walleyes.
If these shoreline drop-off irregularity areas are adjacent to incoming rivers or creeks, even better. These inlets often have warmer water, drawing baitfish and spring walleyes too.
Doing some “sonar search” before fishing often pays early season dividends. I’ll quickly cruise along a drop-off with an eye on my sonar unit. The new Raymarine Element units I’m running this year are super-easy to use and feature HyperVision sonar for superior detail for finding structure, baitfish, and fish. Using sonar to cruise likely fish-holding areas for the presence of bait, structure, and walleyes before fishing is a great way to get on fish fast during opening day, and during the balance of the fishing season too!
When potential spots are found, jigs and minnow combinations often rule during early season. I prefer small jigs in the 1/16- to 1/8-ounce size range for pitching or slowly trolling/drifting. Often the early season fish I find are in waters from 7-10-feet deep, and I prefer to slowly troll or drift through likely areas with the bait fished a ways back behind the boat. In shallower situations, holding the boat away and pitching to the fish works.
The traditional Fire-Ball and Stand-Up Fire-Ball jigs in bright colors get lots of play in my boat during early season. This year, these jigs are also available in several new UV-color patterns that will be top producers in off-colored waters. I had a chance to sample some of the new UV Fire-Balls last fall and can say they definitely upped our catches in dingy waters!
Spot-tail shiner minnows are the bait of choice on lakes with good populations of those minnows, though fatheads work just as well on lots of small, shallow lakes.
Walleye season is here and it’s time to break out the jigs and minnows and head to your favorite lake. Good luck on the opener and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
PHOTO – Mike Frisch and fishing guide Josh Stevenson with a walleye caught on a UV Fire-Ball Jig.
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit Fishing the Midwest’s new website www.fishingthemidwest.com to learn more!