Minnesota's Top Opening-Day Walleye Lakes

Do you fish close to home on opening weekend or do you hit the road and do some exploring? Here are some consistent walleye producers for you to consider.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Tim Lesmeister

If an angler survey was performed and one of the questions asked how far anglers traveled to get to their opening-day walleye lake, I would bet a few crankbaits that a strong majority would be setting up pretty close to home. And why wouldn't they? The Department of Natural Resources has done a great job of turning all those pothole lakes in southern Minnesota into decent walleye fisheries with the help of aeration systems. Stocking in the past few years has been beefed up in a lot of lakes around the state and that has improved the walleye fishing. If you live up north, you're already in the zone that many anglers covet for walleye fishing.

You can't beat the options we have available to us. The problem is that not all those great options are great on opening day. There are some lakes that don't turn on until early June when the walleyes have gotten over their post-spawn funk. Some of those potholes down south are past the spring peak if the weather warmed earlier than normal. Some lakes are full of walleyes, but depth and water clarity make those fish hard to catch unless conditions are perfect. What it boils down to is that you just have to do your homework and make a decision to pick a lake based on how well it has performed in the past. It doesn't matter if the lake is close to home or on the other side of our state. What matters is that you are on a body of water that has good potential when the clock strikes midnight on opening day.

The truth be told, I get my best information from the local bait shops and guides. When you talk to someone that knows their stuff that is behind the counter at a bait shop you can bet they'll be giving you the straight scoop. You might not get GPS coordinates, but those guys make a living selling bait and you use more bait if you're catching fish. The best bait shop information is from the grizzled veterans. They know what lakes have been consistently productive for the past few years in the area, and if you ask them nicely while you place your bait order, you should get the information you require.

Guides are great, too. Last year when I was at the Governor's Opener at Detroit Lakes all the guides were telling me that Detroit Lake is better the first couple of weeks in June and that I should be heading over to Lake Sallie for walleyes. After the weekend was over they proved they were right on the money.

You also want to pay attention to the angler reports you see in the local newspapers right after opening day. When I see a trend for a lake where a lot of fish are showing up for a few years running, I make a note of this and make sure I get there right around that opening-day period the next year. When you start paying attention to this information you will see that certain lakes stick out like sore thumbs because they were so productive those first few days of the season.

I also get information just from listening to my fishing buddies. This more times than not helps me rule out certain lakes for opener. These are guys with cabins on lakes that tell me how miserable the fishing has been on opener for them. These are guys who are going with buddies and don't have options when it comes to picking the lake. It's more of a tradition for them, and every year the results are the same. I've ruled out a lot of lakes for opener from the information fed to me by unsuccessful anglers.

Then there's the luck factor. Every year there are a handful of lakes where conditions come together perfectly, and these lakes are hotter than Texas chili. You don't know until the day you're fishing that this is the case and it's just those lucky anglers who get to brag about the great fishing. Since you can't predict which lakes will fall into the "luck" category, pick the lake you fish on opener by looking for the consistent choices. Here are a few for starters.

LAKE AMELIA
Pope County
Lake Amelia has been a consistently productive opening-day lake since about 1998. This was likely due to a couple of good year-classes of stocked walleyes.

In 2003, Amelia was producing substantial numbers of larger fish, but the smaller walleyes that are typical in the catch on opening day weren't as prevalent. This may be a sign that the quality walleye fishing that has been taken for granted for some time now is about to taper off. That may be the case, but it is more likely that the next few openers will still be great on this lake, so anglers should take advantage of the situation while it lasts.

The majority of the anglers who open on Amelia spend their time right in the center of the lake. There are some sunken islands there and the east shoreline nearby will have walleyes spread out and meandering over the sand and rubble. Some anglers even do well with slip-bobbers in the bulrushes there.

For more information, call Minnewaska Bait at (320) 239-2239.

ISLAND LAKE
Pine County
Anglers searching for the perfect opening-day walleye lake want everything just right, and they'll find it on Island Lake.

What makes Island Lake just right is that it's not overly deep, the water is average in visibility, and there are some shallow hard-bottomed areas as well as a few points and a sunken island. These characteristics along with a good population of walleyes creates a great opening-day walleye lake.

Straight east of the boat landing is a shallow-topped sunken island that receives some fishing pressure on opener. It's deserved attention because the rising bottom is where some of the bigger walleyes end up in mid-May. Work this spot slowly with a live-bait rig and minnow and you might hook one of those big mamas.

East of the island is another popular spot for opening-day walleye anglers. It's an area of shallow water where an anchor and a slip-bobber can provide the right combination for opening-day success.

For more information, call the Sturgeon Lake One Stop at (218) 372-3432.

WASHINGTON LAKE
Meeker County
Even though there's no deep water in Washington Lake, that's not to say there's not a lot of potential spots for opening-day walleye anglers. There's the rubble pile right in the middle of the lake, but everybody knows where that is.

There are a lot of points and inside turns, and even though they are subtle due to the slow-tapering bottom, there's enough to concentrate some schools of walleyes. The successful Washington Lake walleye anglers realize that they are better off focusing on f

ishing for walleyes than searching for fish with the sonar. It's a matter of legwork, not eye-work.

The active fish on opener will react to a shallow-diving crankbait trolled about two mph. A perch pattern is a good option but anglers who are successful on Washington for opening-day walleyes also claim that brown is a good color.

If the wind is blowing, an angler can drift along a depth contour and cast the same crankbait they were trolling. Casting may be less efficient, but for some it is more enjoyable.

For more information, call Darwin Outpost at (320) 693-0019.

BARRETT LAKE
Grant County
Barrett Lake has two peak periods for open-water walleye fishing: starting opening day for a couple of weeks, and a few weeks before and into ice-up. During these two time frames the water clarity is still decent and the fish are active. As summer rolls in, the algae blooms and the shallow water warms. While there are still plenty of available walleyes during the heat of summer, these fish don't feel like biting.

On opener the walleyes will bite. They bite on shiner minnows that have been impaled on a glow hook dragged around behind a walking sinker. Barrett Lake walleyes bite on fathead minnows suspended under slip-bobbers in 10 feet of water on a slow drift along the west shoreline. And Barrett Lake is not a big lake, which means every depth range from 5 to 20 feet can be strained by trolling crankbaits. Something is always working on Barrett for walleyes on opener.

For more information, call Barrett Lake Resort at (320) 528-2598.

FRANKLIN LAKE
Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County has no shortage of available lakes to fish on opener. Fortunately for anglers that live in that section of Minnesota, many of these lakes are excellent walleye fisheries and some even open well. One of the top openers is Franklin Lake.

Franklin Lake has an outstanding walleye population and on opener these fish have plenty of places to congregate, but it seems like most of the boats are around the islands. All that commotion can shut down the walleye bite, so if you want to be able to uphold Franklin's stellar reputation as a quality opening-day lake, find some other spots.

The north section of the lake is rumored to be productive on opener. There's the point that extends into the deepest section of the lake that provides opportunity. The east shoreline is not erratic and compliments the anglers who like to troll crankbaits.

At close to 4,000 acres, Franklin can handle quite a bit of boat traffic and still leave plenty of good spots open. Convince yourself to do some exploring in high-potential locations and you'll likely discover why this lake is so highly regarded as a good opening-day body of water.

For more information, call Park Region Sports at (218) 863-5701.

CENTERVILLE LAKE
Anoka County
Being so close to the metro area, you would think that the boat landing would be jammed on opener but Centerville doesn't get the accolades it deserves as a quality opener lake because the fish are spread out on opening day and you get one here and one there.

Centerville is also lean on structure, which is the likely reason the fish aren't prone to bunching up in big schools. On many lakes if you catch a walleye, you know there are going to be more in that spot. Not on Centerville.

But these drawbacks shouldn't stop anglers from taking advantage of the great opening-day walleye fishing they will find on Centerville. There are a lot of walleyes in this lake and with the right presentation you can catch them.

The right presentation on Centerville is not the live-bait rig and this gets a lot of walleye anglers in trouble because in most cases that is their go-to technique. A live-bait rig isn't going to allow anglers to cover enough water quickly enough to catch a mess of walleyes. That requires a different approach.

If the weather conditions point to an aggressive or even neutral bite, then the crankbait is the best option. This lure can be trolled or cast while drifting and this means the lure gets in front of a lot of fish.

If the bite is light, then tie on a bottom-bouncer with a spinner rig on a short snell and use your electric motor to pull the bait instead of a noisy gas motor that is capable of spooking the fish.

For more information, call Larry's Live Bait at (651) 777-1731.

MADISON LAKE
Blue Earth County
On opening day, there will be a lot of boats on Madison Lake. And there should be. The lake is full of walleyes and these fish are ready for an easy meal by the time opener rolls around.

Boats will stack up at the narrows but there are a lot of other great places to fish. The entire west shoreline of the southern basin is a great place to troll. If you have never used lead-core line before, then Madison on opening day is a good time to learn.

Walleyes will be spread out all over that rubble/sand/rock shoreline, so you want to cover all of the depth zones. This is best done S-trolling a crankbait on lead-core line.

Lead-core line is actually easy to use. It comes in colored segments with each color of lead core 10 yards, or 30 feet. For each color you let out, that crankbait will run 5 to 6 feet deeper. Two colors will be around 10 to 12 feet deep. Three colors will be between 15 and 18 feet down. It doesn't matter what style of crankbait you're using, the more lead core you let out, the deeper the lure runs.

On Madison you can S-troll from 10 to 20 feet deep, adjusting the line out as you go shallower to deeper and back. You can keep the crankbait near the bottom where the fish are. The trolling passes are nice and straight, and if you do find a depth range that is consistent to where the walleyes are positioned, you can key on that zone.

For more information, call Lake Sports at (507) 243-3838.

BUFFALO LAKE
Wright County
Buffalo Lake has been a perennial favorite for opening-day walleye anglers. The deep hole near the center of the lake is surrounded by shallow food shelves and the walleyes there are prime targets for a jumbo leech dragged behind a live-bait rig. Expect a lot of company.

Even though the midlake structure is the magnet that attracts the hordes of walleye anglers, the entire east shoreline is a solid option for techniques that cover water faster. This would include a long-line trolled crankbait or a heavy bottom-bouncer in front of a spinner rig. Sometimes all that boat traffic on the popular structure will push the walleyes into different areas and it's the anglers who try something different in another location that w

ill catch walleyes on opening day on Buffalo.

For more information, call H&H Sport Shop at (320) 963-3818.

LAKE SALLIE
Becker County
The only complaint the guides and anglers had at last year's Governor's opening-day outing was the size of the fish they were catching. There were a lot of 12- to 16-inch walleyes. On the other hand, there were also some nice fish, and the prognosis for a great opener in 2004 was high because now those walleyes will be 16- to 22-inch fish.

Most of the angling effort was directed at the points and inside turns where a jig-and-minnow would be pitched up into 15 feet of water and dragged back out into 22 feet. There was some grass and remnant coontail that the jig would get hung up on occasionally, but most of the time when the jig would hesitate it wasn't a weed - it was a walleye.

For more information, call Early Bird Bait and Tackle at (218) 847-9038.

* * *
Fortunately for the anglers who find themselves on a lake where the walleyes are tight-lipped, there is a lot of season left after opener and getting a good day of fishing is just a matter of trying again. For those who discover the body of water where the fish are hungry, I'm looking forward to seeing your picture on the wall at the bait shop and maybe running into you on the water next year!



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