Here’s what the experts say about where the fish will be Saturday:
Dan Wilfond, fisheries biologist, MInnesota DNR
On the St. Louis River, Wilfond said the walleye spawn was just about dead-on average. That means spawning is already completed and the fish are starting to drop back downriver.
That will have given them ample time to regain their strength by Saturday’s opener “and they should be hungry,” Wilfond said.
Wilfond noted that average or even late springs and spawning runs tend to produce better year classes. Often during early springs and early spawning runs, spawning success is diminished, he said.
Greg Clusiau, Keewatin, guide
Clusiai says the fish should be done spawning — a little behind average — but won’t be too far from where that happened. He’s thinking shallow water will be best.
“I think we’ll only be a little behind schedule as compared to recent years. Walleye won’t be too far from spawning grounds. Some may be even still in the rivers, depending on the lake,” Clusiau said before offering more specific advice. “A Northland Tackle long shank Fireball jig tipped with a shiner or chub minnow, long-casted away from the boat in 4-6 feet of water should be killer!”
Clusiau suggests fishing “smaller, stained-water lakes” that warm up faster. Even better, he noted, “rivers should rule” this opener.
Jeff Sundin, Grand Rapids, guide
With the weather on a relatively typical track this spring, Sundin is expecting fish to be “fairly well dispersed by the fishing opener.” Where lakes opened up earlier and water is warming faster, walleyes will have moved away from spawning areas and focused on feeding areas.
For lakes like Winnie, Leech, Upper Red and others with healthy shiner populations, shallow sand flats that lay adjacent to weed stubble will hold minnows throughout the spring. On warm or sunny days, minnows will move shallow on their own spawning runs. During cold fronts or inclement weather, minnows will move deeper, into the newly emerging weed beds.
Walleyes will follow the minnows, so Sundin says his favorite opener terminal tackle is the Lindy Live Bait Jig in either 1/16 or 1/8 ounce sizes, tipped with fatheads, shiners, or rainbows in the 3 to 4 inch size range are best.
Further north on lakes like Vermilion, Kabetogama and other Canadian shield waters, walleye will use deeper structure much earlier in the season. Points that connect shoreline structure with deep water are typically good.
Fishing vertically with heavier Jigs and minnows works well. Sundin likes the round head 3/8 ounce Lindy Jig tipped with a minnow. But live bait rigs work well too, and he reminds anglers to try leeches on those rigs, not just minnows.
Jarrid Houston, South Range, guide
Houston is predicting a good opener. “I always prefer a later ice out. Walleyes will be done spawning and on the chew. After walleyes complete their annual spring migration they are sure to be looking to intake fuel to help recuperate.”
Houston said live bait will certainly work best but slow retrieves of 3- to 7-inch crank baits will take fish as well. Best bets are the mouths of streams, rivers and creeks. Warmer water will be holding early plant growth and microscopic bug larvae. This in turn will bring feeding and staging smaller fish that bigger fish will be looking for.
“Shallow water is always my first go-to, but anglers need to be cautious to not spook fish,” Houston said of opening day. Avoiding crowds can be tricky during the month of May, so thinking outside the box is important.
“This time of year it is hard to beat pitching a jig and minnow, but if the bite gets tough, don’t be afraid to dig back into ice tackle. A good combination is vertical jigging a loud high-vis 1/8-1/4 oz. buckshot spoon tipped with a minnow head.”