This North-Country spring walleye fell for a Fire-Ball Jig and fathead minnow combination. Photo Courtesy of Travis Peterson
Minnesota offers many options for opening weekend and spring walleyes in general. With so many lakes and rivers to choose from, picking a “hot” lake can be frustrating. After scratching to catch a few opening weekend “eaters”, stories of a better bite on “the lake just down the road” often greet us when we return to work on Monday morning.
How does an angler improve his or her chances of catching enough walleyes to fill the fryer on opening weekend? Consider the following basic but proven opening day suggestions.
Target Walleye Waters
Many lakes can be classified as “walleye/perch” or “bass/panfish” lakes. Obviously, a lake with a healthy walleye population is a good starting point. This may sound elementary. However, some anglers refuse to break the mold. They continue to fish the same waters each opener, because it is “tradition”, regardless of previous results. Others avoid classic walleye lakes because of opening weekend crowds. To each his own, but there is a reason some lakes are popular. They traditionally produce. Now, I like that kind of tradition! Talk to bait-shop sales associates and area fisheries personnel to learn which lakes are classified as “walleye/perch” type lakes. Year in and year out, these are the lakes that you hear about at the office on Monday morning.
As a rule of thumb, stay shallow for opening day ‘eyes. Most fish in the northern states’ lakes and rivers will be located in less than 10 feet of water. OK, there are some exceptions to the rule . . . but not many.
Search for Warm Water
Spring walleyes are attracted to the warmest water they can find. Lucky for us, fish in the warmest water within a system will generally be the most active and willing to bite. Even a few degrees can make a big difference. Warm water areas to investigate include rivers, river mouths, and bays. The north end of a lake will generally be a few degrees warmer than the south end as it’s shorelines get more sun exposure. Predicting the warmer areas of a particular lake is relatively easy when one considers sun exposure and incoming water. A surface temperature gauge can be as important as a depth finder in the spring.
Jig ‘em Up
Now that we are on a walleye lake or a connected river and in a relatively warm corner of the water mass, let’s get the skunk out of the boat. While other lures and live-bait rigs will take their share of opening day walleyes, a jig and minnow combination is my top choice. Specifically, I use a Northland Fire-Ball Jig. Lighter is better if it stays in the strike zone. With the fish in shallow water, a 1/16 ounce jig is popular. However, 1/32 ounce Fire-Ball Jigs just became available this year and will be the ticket on opener. Likewise, light monofilament line like 5 lb. BIONIC is recommended. An 1/8 oz. jig may be necessary in windy conditions. River anglers might need ¼ and 3/8 ounce jigs available as well, in order to maintain bottom contact in current. While shiners are the bait of choice on some waters, fatheads work well on most. If available, I prefer small to medium shiners. Most biters will be smaller male walleyes that are relatively lethargic and may not go for the full-meal-deal. I always add a stinger hook to the Fire-Ball Jig from opener through May. It will catch the short biters that are often the majority during this cold water time period. I disagree with those who feel that adding a stinger hook results in dramatically fewer bites. While it’s foolish to hit the lake without a few leeches and crawlers on board, 90% of opening day walleyes in this neck of the woods will be taken on minnows.
Sneak Up on ‘em
Shallow water walleyes are spooky, especially in the clear water lakes the Midwest is known for. Use an electric motor or drift if possible. Cast to the fish, retrieving with a lift and fall swimming action. Otherwise, drift or troll the jig a good distance away from the boat. Again, impart a lift and drop action on the lure. Allow the lure to rest on the bottom between each lift. Hits will come on the drop. Don’t forget the anchor either. When a concentration of eyes is located, quietly slip the anchor in on the upwind side of the fish. Cast jigs to the fish or allow a Lite-Bite slip bobber rig to hover over them. Crowds tend to scatter fish from the “community spots” so fish the edges of the pack.
Run and Gun
While it’s best to maintain a quiet and stealthy approach, keep moving if an occasional walleye isn’t visiting the live-well. Be mobile on opening day. If a lake isn’t producing, move to another lake. That’s what trailers are for! Fishing two or three lakes in a single day is not out of the ordinary for North-Country walleye fanatics.
Consider the opening weekend options available and stick to the basics. Good luck and may your opener culminate with golden filets of walleye sizzling in the pan