We contacted a handful of area fishing guides across northern Minnesota for their walleye opener and early season tips and tactics. Here’s what they had to say:
• Leisure Outdoor Adventures, Leech Lake and other north-central Minnesota waters:
Hockey fans will remember Kvalevog from his days as a UND goaltender in the mid-’90s, but he traded the goal crease for a landing net, and these days, the Brainerd, Minn., physical education teacher is an owner of Leisure Outdoor Adventures, spending much of his summer guiding on Leech Lake and other north-central Minnesota waters.
Fishing opener in central Minnesota for walleye typically means shallow water—4 to 10 feet—sand and shiner minnows on popular lakes such as Leech, Winnibigoshish, Cass, Bemidji, Gull and Mille Lacs.
Walleyes will be done spawning and are keying in on food sources. For many lakes, that means a spottail shiner. Shiners key in on sand and grass. Start by working the sand flats close to spawning areas such as main lake points or river mouths.
With recent warm temps and early ice-out, there will be plenty of bait in the shops, and their tanks will be full of shiners. Early in the season, it’s hard to beat a jig-and-minnow combination. Wide-gapped ⅛- to ¼- ounce jigs such as a KenKatch long shank jig fished on 6- to 8-pound monofilament line are crucial for a light presentation.
Keep the baits down by the bottom but away from the boat. Fish are spooky this time of year and to maximize your success, focus on areas with a little chop blowing in. The wave action will break up the clarity of the water, and you will spook fewer fish.
• Info: leisureoutdooradventures.com.
• Justin Bailey Fishing and Guide Service, Keewatin, Minn., Itasca County and area northern Minnesota lakes:
When I fish early season such as around the fishing opener, I look for a couple of things:
I try to find areas where the fish are starting to funnel back into the lakes from their spawning grounds. When I find these areas, I like to fish shallow—anywhere from 4 feet to 12 feet of water.
I also look for sand. A lot of the time, if you find the sand, it’s the warmest water around and will hold the bait walleyes are looking for as they recover from the spawn. When I find these areas, I go to one of my favorite tactics: a jig and a minnow—usually a spottail shiner. The shiners are spawning this time of year in the warmer waters of sandy areas, so it’s a “match the hatch” situation. When you find these areas, just fan cast your jigs and work slow. You should be able to put some fish in the boat.
• Info: facebook.com and search for “Justin Bailey Fishing and Guide Service.”
• First Choice Guide Service, Cass Lake and connected waters:
On the walleye opener and the ensuing couple of weeks, moving water is priority No. 1 for me when locating aggressive walleyes. Culverts, streams, creeks and rivers flowing in and out of lakes are all key locations.
When it’s a late ice-out, the fish still should be in the moving water, and if it’s an early spring, you may need to look at points and funnel areas nearby. If the wind is pounding in for a few days in the vicinity of the current area, this can help concentrate the fish on select structure. My preferred presentation is pitching crankbaits, jigs dressed with rubber and spinnerbaits.
While most people swear by the jig and shiner and sitting still or moving very slow, I would rather cover water and seek out the aggressive fish.
Last but not least, I rarely fish during the day early in the season. As with late-summer muskies, night time is often the right time!
• Info: fishingcasslake.com.
Scott and Allen Edman
• Edman’s Angling Adventures, Lake of the Woods and Northwest Angle:
One tactic we like to use on the opener is anchoring on the mud near the base of a point or reef. Mark a few fish on the graph, anchor over them and let the fish come to you. The presentation is similar to jigging while ice fishing, so not a lot of movement is best sometimes. A ¼-ounce jig and minnow is standard equipment, but ice lures also work.
Tactic two is dragging bottom bouncers and spinners tipped with a minnow in shallow sand areas. Walleyes and baitfish move into the warming water, sometimes into just a few feet. Throw a jig and plastic for the real shallow ones.
Option three is to find flowing water or current areas and use a heavy enough jig and minnow to get down to the bottom. Current draws bait, and if walleyes spawn in that area, there usually are plenty of eater-size males still hanging around.
• Info: walleyewalleye.net.
• Northcountry Guide Service and Promotions, Bemidji:
In the Bemidji area, we’re approaching what appears to be a normal walleye opener. Water temperatures are on the rise, and the fish are starting to migrate to areas they like to inhabit in the spring.
Spots to look for include current areas or shallow sand, especially on northern shorelines where the water is warmer. Places with sand grass or early cabbage growth also are dynamite early in the season. Last, if you’re looking for big walleyes, some post-spawn females may be laying off these areas resting in nearby deep water.
A simple jig-and-minnow presentation is the best way to target early season walleyes. Crankbaits, live bait rigging and bobber fishing all can be productive, but a jig and minnow will outfish them all if presented correctly.
• Info: northcountryguides.com.