Spring blizzards, low temperatures that seemed to hang on forever, and ice that just didn’t want to leave the lakes all combined to mean one thing for Minnesota walleye anglers: cold water across the state for the upcoming opening weekend of the fishing season.
While that can seem intimidating, it really presents some excellent opportunities because walleyes will be more concentrated in the, because in the shallows in warmest water available. Typical spots include the mouths of rivers and feeder creeks and the north end of the lake that’s constantly exposed to warming sunlight.
When searching for warmer water, stay laser-focused on the sonar’s temp readout because a temperature swing of even one or two degrees might mean all the difference in the world. Side-scanning technology like Lowrance’s StructureScan feature simplifies locating fish in shallow water, but if your electronics package doesn’t include scanning capability, just use the scanners on either side of your nose. In a lot of cases during spring, the water is clear enough to actually see walleye in the shallows—if you stay quiet enough to get close, that is.
And that brings up another important point: be stealthy. A running outboard, boat traffic, and any kind of clatter from inside the boat can spook walleyes in shallow water. Use the trolling motor and keep unnecessary noise to a minimum when approaching these areas. And if you do see that you’ve run fish out of the vicinity, mark the spot on your chart plotter or drop a marker buoy and come back in a half-hour or so and try again.
For this same reason, pitching jigs away from the boat—rather than fishing straight down—will be most productive. First thing in the morning, I’ll use a 1/8- or ¼-ounce Fire-Ball® Jig-and-spottail shiner or fathead minnow. Or, if the bottom is sandy, a Stand-Up Fire-Ball®, and minnow.
As the day progresses, and the water warms even more, however, I’ll often switch to a soft plastic—a 3½-inch Impulse® Paddle Minnow on a Slurp!® Jig Head—using the same pitch-and-drag retrieve as with the live bait combos. The artificial lure is just more efficient; it stays on the hook better and won’t come off when you’re fishing through any kind of debris on the bottom.
Finally, don’t be surprised if the opening day dawns cold and windy, as that’s what happens more often than not. So, my last bit of advice is: don’t be one of those anglers who seek shelter on the lee side of a point. If safely possible, head for the wind-blown shoreline, because that’s where the warmest water—and the walleyes—will be.
By Team Northland Pro-Staffer Tony Roach