Heading Out For The Opener

Heading Out For The Opener

There's new line on your reels, everything is packed and you have high expectations for the upcoming walleye season. Point your rig toward these lakes and you won't be disappointed. (April 2006)

The reels have been spooled with new line, and your tackle boxes have been re-organized. The boats have been cleaned, and the bait buckets are teaming with shiners and fatheads. Anglers are filled with high expectations, and the boat ramps are busy. It must be the fishing opener.

What a tradition! A few hundred thousand anglers taking to the water on that one particular day of the year when regulations say that people can once again begin fishing for walleyes and northern pike. It's the start of a new season, with the opportunity to shake the dust off those live-bait rigs and spinnerbaits, and try out some new techniques, as well as prove the reliability of the standard presentations. For some people, it's an excuse to be on the water. For others, the opener is the start of a long race that won't end until the season closes again.

Many anglers have decided long before the opener which lake they're going to fish. They could have a home or a cabin on the lake. They may be joining someone who lives on a particular body of water. Some anglers venture to the same resort each year and appreciate the familiarity of the lake they fish. And others wait until they see what the conditions are going to be like, and then that dictates where they'll go fishing.

Whatever your plans, picking the right lake for opening-day success is often more about luck than anything else. But then, of course, there's something to that old saying about making your own luck.

Some anglers look at walleye numbers in a lake to make their pick. It surely helps to have high numbers of walleyes in a body of water, but if the forage base is strong, then that could negate the benefit of having a lot of game fish.

Some anglers let weather dictate the lake they're on for opening day. If the ice was off early and it's been warm, then they're up north where they can find some textbook walleye structure and post-spawn fish. If the early-spring weather stayed cool with a late ice-out, then those prairie pothole lakes in the southern region of the state look like prime candidates.

Past history can be a guide in choosing an opening-day lake. Certain bodies of water tend to be productive for opening-day walleyes every year, and with a bit of research, these lakes will divulge their secrets.

Whatever your criteria for picking the lake you'll be on for the opener, it won't hurt to keep your fingers crossed and hope you're in the right place at the right time. If you still haven't picked one yet, here are a few lake options with good potential. Good luck on the opener!

LAKE OKABENA

Lake Okabena on the edge of Worthington in Nobles County, in southwestern Minnesota, is referred to as a "prairie pothole lake." These lakes are shallow and prone to winterkill, but with the aid of aeration systems, the likelihood of a winter die-off is marginal. Heavy stocking and some natural reproduction ensure high numbers of walleyes in Okabena.

This is not a lake full of textbook walleye structure. Okabena bottoms out at 17 feet deep, and the majority of the lake is about 8 feet deep.

Anglers will find quite a few boats on the water on the opener, but the potential is still high for a successful outing. About half the anglers will be drifting and dragging live-bait rigs with minnows out in the big basin, and the other half will be slow-trolling medium-diving crankbaits. Both techniques are solid producers.

One tactic that should not be overlooked is the jig-and-minnow combination. Cast a 1/8-ounce minnow-tipped jig as far as your gear will allow, and then drift. Every few seconds, pop the jig off the bottom and let it settle. The walleyes will inhale the jig as it's falling back to the bottom.

Okabena has always had a reputation as a great opening-day option. For more information, call Lakeshore Conoco at (507) 372-2521.

LAKE ALLIE

Plenty of anglers realize that the best options for the opener are shallow, featureless lakes where the walleyes are well past their post-spawn stages and feeding furiously. These anglers pick lakes that are stocked heavily and are not too large, which makes finding fish easier. Lake Allie is one of those lakes.

Located southwest of Hutchinson in Renville County, Allie is a shallow bowl that has been well maintained with fry stocking. You may not find many lunker walleyes in Allie, but there will be a lot of eating-sized fish.

Water clarity on Allie is marginal, but around opener it's about as good as it gets. To find a school of feeding fish, consider a spinner rig on a heavy walking sinker. Even though the lake is only 10 to 12 feet deep throughout the basin, walleyes will hover at 6 to 8 feet deep. Work the spinner from the bottom up to 5 feet deep, and when you connect with some fish, work that spot hard with a slip-bobber or jig.

For more information, you can call Hutchinson Bait at (320) 587-3685.

BELLE LAKE

Straight north of Hutchinson is Belle Lake in Meeker County. Fry stocking keeps this 825-acre lake in the high-potential category for the opener. Belle also has a reputation as a good opening-day lake in general.

While there are a few small pockets of rubble and a couple of well-defined points on the north end, the walleyes on the opener can be anywhere on Belle. Anglers need to incorporate a search strategy like trolling crankbaits or spinner rigs to find a pod of fish.

The tendency on smaller lakes is to migrate toward the anglers who are setting the hook, but even a marginal amount of boat traffic over a school of shallower walleyes will get them to disperse. Enough walleyes are spread out around Belle that it won't be tough to find your own fish.

To learn more, call Hutchinson Bait at (320) 587-3685.

LAKE FLORIDA

Some anglers don't like fishing a lake that has outstanding water quality because it requires a precise presentation. Lake Florida in Kandiyohi County may be a clear lake, but despite that condition, it still shines on opener.

There are a couple of small humps on the west side that can concentrate anglers on the opener. Don't be sucked into this group. Instead, key on the remnants of the weedline you find in 15 to 17 feet of water on the southwest section of the lake. This vegetation extends from the shoreline out, and covers a large flat. This area tends to pull baitfish ar

ound opener, and that brings in the walleyes.

If you're not finding walleyes in the deeper water, move shallower on that flat. A good way to cover this flat is with a 1/8-ounce jig and a 3-inch twistertail body.

For more information, call Mel's Sport Shop at (320) 796-2421.

LAKE PLANTAGANETTE

Heading north? Plan to make a stop at Lake Plantaganette in Hubbard County. This scenic body of water south of Bemidji gets its share of pressure on the opener, but at 2,500 acres, boatloads of anglers can find spots all to themselves.

You'll be compelled to start your search on one of the humps or points, but don't rule out the shallow sand regions near the sharp-dropping bottom on the west side. Walleyes will scoot out of the deeper water where they're waiting to snack on a perch. The best way to fish a quick-tapering bottom is with a jig-and-minnow. Since the walleyes are prone to spread out at differing depths along a breakline, you can either cast or drift the jig just dragging it on the bottom.

If you're using a live-bait rig, stick to larger fatheads and shiners, and make sure you put about 6 to 8 feet between the weight and the bait.

For more information, call Bluewater Bait at (218) 444-2248.

LAKE STRAWBERRY

Not too deep, but very clear. Maybe that's why there are so many walleyes in this lake -- no one can catch them!

Around the opener, walleyes on clear, northern lakes tend to prefer the shallow sand/rubble regions, and the fish in Becker County's Strawberry follow that pattern. The problem is that most anglers want to be backtrolling live-bait rigs out in water 20 feet or deeper. Too often the anglers who are fishing shallower have their lures and baits too close to their boat, and are not getting bites because the fish are aware of their presence.

If you want to pull a live-bait rig on Strawberry on the opener, let out a lot of line and S-troll the rig. If you're trolling crankbaits, let out plenty of line and use trolling boards to keep the lures out of the path of the boat. If you're casting jigs, cast them a country mile or so.

The walleye numbers are way up in Strawberry, and it could develop a reputation as a "sleeper" opening-day walleye lake. Just use the right presentation, because the fish are there and they will be feeding.

For more information, call Quality Bait at (218) 844-2248.

LOON LAKE

Loon Lake just east of Lake Crystal is only 7 feet deep at its maximum depth -- a prime candidate for winterkill, but also loaded with walleyes due to fry stocking.

Lakes like Loon deserve a call to the DNR before you drop in the boat, just to ensure that those walleyes that were so numerous just a few months before opener are okay. Even aerated lakes can take a hit when conditions dictate low oxygen levels.

Loon can be a productive opener lake for decent-sized walleyes, or scores of small 'eyes can pick a leech off a hook with razor efficiency. The trick is to use bigger bait. You may not get as many bites with bigger shiners, but they will be nice fish. If you're going to troll crankbaits on Loon, keep it slow, make sure to use brightly colored crankbaits and tip the front treble hook with a quarter-piece of night crawler. There's something about that little added bit of scent that triggers strikes.

For more information, call The Bobber Shop in Mankato at (507) 625-8228.

LAKE SHETEK

Some lakes gain a solid reputation as great opening-day lakes, and Shetek is one of those. Just 20 miles south of Marshall, this prairie-pothole lake is not only loaded with walleyes, but it will be covered with boats on the opener as well. If you don't like crowds, pick another option. But if you like catching walleyes, Shetek is a good choice.

One interesting aspect to Shetek, unlike many of the other pothole lakes in southern Minnesota, is that you can be into a pod of 18-inch walleyes and set the hook on a 28-incher. An hour later and you hook a 24-inch walleye. A few big ones always seem to be mixed in with the smaller-class fish.

Shetek hits depths of no more than 10 feet, with 7 to 8 feet about average. The anglers who fish Shetek a lot have mastered the fine art of trolling crankbaits, and it works well here. Since perch are the dominant forage base, take along a lot of crankbaits that "match" the perch, or a fire-tiger pattern.

For more information, call Captain Bly's at (507) 763-3757.

BIRCH LAKE

Reservoir systems always seem to produce walleyes on opener. Winnibigoshish is one of those lakes, and Birch Lake is another. Birch is just outside of Babbitt in St. Louis County and is a picture-perfect northwoods experience, but -- and there always seems to be a "but" when it comes to northern lakes on the opener -- it can still be cold there in mid-May. If the weatherman predicts temperatures in your comfort range, Birch could be a great option.

Birch Lake is over 5,600 acres, so it can be a little overwhelming, especially to anglers who have cut their teeth on natural lakes. But don't be intimidated.

Start out by casting a jig-and-minnow on the big rubble flats. You'll be fishing 6 to 8 feet of water. Just drag the jig along the bottom and concentrate on feeling the bite. If the walleyes are a bit deeper, they'll be in 10 to 15 feet of water, which on Birch is a slow-tapering bottom. You can either cast and retrieve a jig or use a vertical jigging approach -- which can sometimes be more productive in this slightly deeper water. Don't use a gas motor to keep the boat in position when vertical jigging, because it spooks fish. Either drift or use an electric motor.

For more information, call The Great Outdoors in Ely at (218) 365-4744.

CODY LAKE

Cody Lake just west of Lonsdale in Rice County has been included as the best potential "sleeper" lake of the bunch in this article. These shallow murky-water lakes can be blazing hot around the opener. The only problem is, this productive period may last only a few days to a couple of weeks. If the bite goes hot for walleyes on lakes with these characteristics, you better get there in a hurry.

Cody is fed walleyes through the DNR fry-stocking program. This means you may not catch a trophy fish, but finding a pod of walleyes means catching a lot of fish.

Finding that pod on Cody means using flashy lures or minnows. The lake is only 250 acres, so it can be covered quickly and thoroughly, which means there's a great chance an active school of walleyes will be found.

For more information, call Faribault Bait at (507) 334-2768.

SOUTH TEN MILE LAKE

Are you looking for some classic walleye structure with high potential? Chec

k out South Ten Mile Lake just northwest of Ashby. Slightly over 1,400 acres, Ten Mile has some midlake humps, well-defined points, subtle-sloping sand flats, bulrushes and good numbers of walleyes.

On the opener, walleyes will typically be in a post-spawn mode and searching for baitfish. There will always be some forage in the bulrushes and in the nearby remnant vegetation. It's a good place to find walleyes with a slip-bobber and leech, especially on South Ten Mile where bulrushes rim large swaths of shoreline.

Bigger walleyes will be sitting at the base of the sunken islands. You must get to these fish early because by midmorning, the bottom has been churned up by anglers dragging sinkers, and the bite will slow or cease from the heavy fishing pressure there. But South Ten Mile is a great trolling lake. The west shoreline has a consistently tapering bottom so your lure can maintain the right depth range.

To learn more, call Dahlon's Sport Shop at (218) 747-2901.

* * *

Before heading out to the water for the opener, you need to do a few things. First make sure that the lake you plan to fish doesn't carry any special regulations. This can change the luster of a lake for anglers counting on taking home a limit. Second, do the research and make sure you know the boat landing will handle your rig. Many anglers with big boats have left a landing on a small lake, spewing profanities because their heavy deep-V or deck boat wouldn't work at a marginal access.

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.