Walleye Opener Outlook

Top Presentations for the Minnesota Walleye Opener that Will Prove Effective No Matter Where You Live inside the WALLLEYE BELT

BEMIDJI, Minn. (May 9, 2024) – It’s been an odd spring weather-wise, but all indications point to an outstanding 2024 Minnesota Fishing Opener. Grizzled anglers might consider Opener amateur hour, boat ramps filled with screwballs rusty from months off the water and first-time-out mechanical issues, but take it from us, this weekend and upcoming weeks should be good. Really good. And if you see somebody at the launch having issues, give ‘em a hand.

“We’re looking at a fantastic Opener throughout the state,” says veteran northern MN fishing guide, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl.

“And it’s going to be a shiner bite if you can get them. But if you can’t get shiners, what will they eat? Fatheads or rainbows, soft plastic minnows, hair jigs, and crankbaits. Between hardly any fishing pressure this winter and females recuperating from the spawn, anglers should get into good numbers of hungry males and active females, too.”

While Bro isn’t averse to double-hooking a spot-tail shiner on a long shank Northland Tungsten JigDeep-Vee, or MVP Jig (all in 1/8- or ¼ ounce), he’s also going to have rods set up with Northland Eye-Candy Minnow or Paddle Shad plastics primarily sticking to shiner-mimicking patterns like White, Smoke Shad, Firecracker, or Glo Moonlight

Walleye Opener Outlook

Bro's Baits

“You get enough shiners in these shallow areas and the walleyes absolutely annihilate them—live and dead ones, so match-the-hatch and white is the name of the game. But the action is really what’s going to trigger them, so don’t freak out if the color you want is sold out at the shop on the way to the lake,” adds Bro.

As per the usual, there will be a tailgating procession of trailers headed to Red, Winnie, Lake of the Woods—and all points in between—but that doesn’t mean you have to follow the crowds. Water temperatures are right where they need to be and given the lack of fishing pressure this winter, Bro thinks the 2024 MN Opener bite will be nothing short of “epic.”

“Winnie will be on fire. Same for Leech. And LOTW and Red. Same for most Minnesota Lakes. The fish have spawned and many of the females have recuperated and should be hungry. Lake Bemidji will be really good and there shouldn’t be a ton of boats. Irving, too. Most of your windswept lakes that have mid-depth ranges – not much real estate greater than 30-40 feet—are going to be really good, too. Your lakes with deep, 80’-100’ water in parts will maybe be a bit tougher, but who knows, the wind we’ve had this spring has mixed everything up nice and water temps are in the low 50s with shiners on the edge of moving up in most lakes,” reports Bro.

Eye-Candy Minnow (Glo Moonlight)
Eye-Candy Paddle Shad (Firecracker)

Besides shiners, there have been huge hatches of perch on lakes across Minnesota with lots of young-of-the-year for ‘eyes to snack on, too.

Along those lines, again, it’ll be very much a match-the-hatch deal, either fishing shiners or Northland Eye-Candy that resemble shiners and young-of-the-year perch. Bro says he’ll also have sticks tied up with Northland Deep-Vee Flashtail Jigs, whose tinsel will imitate the flash of the predominant spring forage – and Rumble Bugs, too, for long-lining behind the boat and then pitching when he finds pods of fish on his electronics. “You really only need two colors of Rumble Bugs for the Opener: any of the numerous Northland Perch patterns and Silver/Black—or other colors that look like shiners. That will cover everything natural on the walleye menu this weekend.”

“My other tip,” says Bro. “Is use the Deep-Vee Spin. That willow spinner on the bottom of the Deep-Vee is flash like the real food, too, and should tempt any fish that are reluctant. And if you can’t find shiners or don’t want to spend the money, big deal. Use fatheads or rainbows or an Eye-Candy Minnow or Paddle Shad. Me, I like the blueish Moonlight jig color on a lot of lakes.”

Deep-Vee Spin (Moonlight)

And once fish are found, a more leisurely approach to catching ‘em is throwing out a slip float with a 1/16 to 1/8-ounce Tungsten Jig, double-hooking the minnow, and just soaking it – even a lighted bobber if you’re breaking the season in at 12:01 a.m. Friday night and get on fish quickly.

Veteran Guide Speaks

National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer and veteran guide, Tom Neustrom, guides out of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and is looking forward to a “very good Opener.”

“The walleyes are done spawning but will still be shallow in the 4-8 foot range, especially if there’s a little bit of cloud cover and breeze. In terms of presentations, I’ll start with a jig and minnow.”

This is where Neustrom differs in tactics from a lot of other experts. Rather than using the long shank Tungsten Jig, he likes throwing a Short-Shank Tungsten Jig in 1/8-ounce, picking the small to mid-size shiners from his bait bucket.

Tungsten Short-Shank Jig (Parrot)

“What I like to do is let the walleye grab the bait and swim with it a bit, counting to five or ten seconds. Sometimes you need to let them swim with it and know that they’ve got it. Then the short shank works just fine and gives the minnow more life than double-hooking with a longer shank. The key is using a softer tip rod, too.”

The Skinny On Mille Lacs

For brevity’s sake, we’ll skip the entire Mille Lacs harvest debate and move into how to catch a bunch of fish for fun and photos.

Mille Lacs Lake guide, Brad Hawthorne, believes 2024 is going to be a banner year on the “Big Pond.” Launching Saturday morning, he fully expects to boat 50-60 fish with clients before noon.

“We’re looking at really favorable conditions. Number one, any time we have warmer water temperatures on any of the big walleye lakes in Minnesota, it's almost a guarantee that your catch rates will be through the roof just based on early season and water temperature. And then you throw in that X factor in there, which is a low bait numbers on Mille Lacs, and it should be an outstanding bite,” says Hawthorne.

Hawthorne continues: “But it also means fish will be a little deeper. They're not going to be in that post spawn funk like most years when we have dreams of going out and catching 100 fish.  Mille Lacs walleyes spawned three to four weeks ago and now the water temps are in the mid 50s so they’re all putting on the feed bag in slightly deeper water like 8 to 16 feet, your typical jig and minnow or jig and plastic areas.”

“That said, I think we'll see more aggressive things work, too, like Pitchin’ Puppets and heavier jigs. Guys that are used to throwing 1/8th ad 1/4th ounce jigs might be fishing 3/8-ounce this year – in lead jigs. For tungsten you can down one size. This year is going to be a deal of looking a couple feet deeper and using a little bit heavier jig.”

Brad's Top Baits for Mille Lacs Opener

Black Deep-Vee Jig with Eye-Candle Paddle Shad in Black – “that’s my money-maker, my mop, my clean-up bait”

¼- ounce Gold Short-Shank Tungsten Jig for skull hooking minnows

¼-ounce Glo Moonlight Tungsten Jig with a shiner

¼-ounce Deep-Vee Flashtail Jig in Black and Gold tipped with a minnow or Eye-Candy Minnow or Paddle Shad – “that’s my Mille Lacs Swiss Army Knife”

Southern MN Walleye Waters

Angling expert, content producer, and educator, Joel Nelson, resides in the Cannon River Valley and knows the waters of southern Minnesota like the back of his hand. For those looking for something different, the area offers some great walleye fishing opportunities.

“Water temps are definitely elevated compared to a lot of years. We had an earlier ice out and better weather, so most locations are in the low 50s and in some of the shallower, darker water bodies, water temps are approaching the mid 50s.”

In Nelson’s words, this means the “walleyes are doing things a little bit differently this year” with fish already situated in areas where they’d be end of May and early June, walleyes locating just off the edge of new weeds. Interestingly, in southern Minnesota, Nelson also targets shallow flats and pitches around docks and anywhere where there are bottom composition changes.

And on some lakes, he suggests looking a bit deeper than where you’d set up on a more typical weather year. “Instead of looking in 3 to 8 feet of water, I’d be looking in 8 to 13,” says Nelson.

“So you can be a little bit off the bank and you can situate right on top of the fish because our water is a lot more stained than lakes up north.”

In terms of baits, Nelson will be fishing Opener with a Northland Tungsten Jig and minnow. “If anglers haven’t tried tungsten, this should be the year to try them. I really like the sensitivity and being able to feel the changes in bottom hardness as well as every little scrape against a weed stalk. I think it definitely leads to feeling more bites.”

Nelson’s also a big fan of using 1/16- or 1/8-ounce Short-Shank Tungsten jigs and a slip bobber. “When I find fish, it comes down to presenting a low-impact bait delivery system. I don’t need something clunky attached to my live bait. These jigs are perfect and hold the bobber down without any added weight. You can also cast the rigs a mile and stay stealthy if you have to.”

Mitchell Talks Minnesota

Although known for his extensive fishing experience in the Dakotas, Jason Mitchell does a lot of filming throughout Minnesota for TV and web—and has always been a fan of its 10,000 lakes.

“To me, pitching jigs is a spring staple on most Minnesota lakes. Nothing says Minnesota opener like a 1/8th-ounce Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig in the Parrot color and a shiner on 6-pound monofilament. That combination has probably caught more walleyes in northern Minnesota the opening week than anything else I can think of. Definitely a classic that just keeps catching,” says Mitchell.

Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig (Parrot)

Mitchell’s recommendations for what lake to choose?

“As far as easy walleye fishing, it’s really tough to beat Red Lake for the opener and if you know nothing about nothing, go a few hundred yards out from shore until you get into 6-8 feet of water and throw a size 5 Rumble Shad behind the boat and troll until you start catching fish. Blue, chrome and dark minnow colors are really good on Upper Red.”

Rumble Shad (Blue Tiger)

Mitchell adds that throwing jigs and plastics has gained a lot of momentum in Minnesota and has long been a go-to for him on Devils Lake. “It’s a great way to find and catch fish. All you need is a ¼-ounce Northland MVP Jig and an Eye-Candy Paddle Shad. Personally, I love the gap and hook on the MVP Jig for soft plastics. I use the Eye Candy Paddle Shad a lot. This combo is not only great for covering water but fishing in the wind, too.”

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