May means opportunity for Minnesota walleye fans, thanks to the abundance of great fisheries waiting to be explored. In fact, we’re so blessed with fish-rich lakes and rivers that simply choosing a place to wet a line can be almost overwhelming.
To simplify the selection process, we’ve tapped the minds of some of the Gopher State’s greatest walleye warriors to produce a short list of six top destinations to catch the May madness.
MILLE LACS LAKE
Ranking high among Minnesota’s most storied fish factories, this 128,000-acre slice of walleye heaven offers great early-season action for ’eyes of all sizes, including sag-bellied trophies. Few know the drill like lifelong Mille Lacs angler and fulltime guide Kevin McQuoid (866-670-8709; www.macstwinbay.com).
“The way open-water season ended last fall, and winter began, we’re looking for numbers of big fish topping 8 to 10 pounds, plus eaters perfect for shore lunch,” he says. With a healthy forage base, including a resurgent tullibee population, the lake’s walleyes wax fat, yet continue hitting anglers’ baits.
Early options abound, but McQuoid favors a no-fail May one-two punch. “The north end sand is hard to beat during the day,” he begins. “And near-shore rock humps light up in the evening.”
On the sand, McQuoid drifts and slow-trolls a live-bait rig tipped with a large, lively leech on a size 4 or 6 hook. “I use an 8-foot leader of 8-pound-test Berkley XL, which stands up to teeth and gill rakers better than lighter lines,” he says.
A half-ounce walking sinker and barrel swivel, to limit line twist, round out the rig. “Make sure the swivel eye is large enough not to stick in the sinker,” he cautions.
McQuoid typically covers fish-holding contours and the perimeter of rock humps lying in depths from 12 to 20 feet, though the fish move shallower when it’s windy, and slide deeper if fishing pressure is heavy. “You’ll find walleyes all the way out to 28 feet, but the most aggressive fish are shallower,” he says.
A speed of .7 mph is key. So is fishing about a foot off bottom, to keep zebra mussels and native clams at bay.
As darkness nears, McQuoid shifts gears, slinging slip-bobbers over rocky humps rising to within 4 to 12 feet of the surface. “Key on the tops of the structures,” he says. “Tip a 1/16-ounce perch-colored Lindy Jig with a leech, hooked just ahead of the sucker for lively longevity, and fish it a foot off bottom.”
At 15,957 acres, Cass offers a cornucopia of structural and weed-related options for early-season fishing. And plenty of walleyes, too, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources test nets and iconic Northwoods guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, who can be reached at (218) 340-6051; www.brosguideservice.com.
“Limits are not uncommon on Cass, which has so many bays and interconnected lakes you can spend a lifetime learning it all,” he says. “Early after the opener, the walleyes bite all day long. Then it becomes more of a morning and evening bite.”
Key areas range from textbook bars, points and related breaklines to emerging weedbeds. “Big bars like Cedar and Dead Man’s hold fish from mid-May through the rest of the season,” says Brosdahl. “I focus on 12- to 18-foot depths this time of year. When the wind lights up the bite, a jig and shiner are hard to beat, but a live-bait rig and redtail combo is good, too.
“Around the opener, walleyes congregate at the mouth of the Turtle River, and where the river goes from Allen’s Bay to Lake Andrusia,” he notes. And keep in mind that Cass is the largest member of the Cass Lake Chain, which also includes Big Wolf, Andrusia, Pike Bay, Buck, Kitchi, Little Rice and Big Rice lakes.
Bro jigs much of the time. “I like dragging a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce Northland Fire-Ball tipped with a leech,” he says. “On calm days I work it with light hops, but give it a good pop when the wind is blowing.”
Emerging weedbeds are also hotspots. “Early in the year, shiners move shallow looking for warmer water and the walleyes follow,” he says. “You can fish weed edges with a standard leadhead, or cast into the bed with a weedless jig like Northland’s Weed Weasel.”
While it’s tempting to probe the lake’s farthest reaches in search of walleye gold, Bro says not to overlook fish-holding areas close to the city of Cass Lake. Stony Point is a prime example, along with the maze of bars fanning away from it. And speaking of Stony, the resort by the same name offers anglers a fisherman-friendly base for exploring the system. You can visit www.stonyptresortcasslake.com for details, or the Cass Lake Area Chamber at www.casslake.com for a full rundown of local accommodations.
Brosdahl also sings the praises of sprawling Leech Lake — and for good reason. With healthy numbers of walleyes scattered across its 102,000 acres, the big lake offers a wealth of near-shore options in May. “It’s an absolute blast this time of year, with lots of 15- to 17-inch eaters, plus larger photo fish,” he says.
“Shoreline-connected points and islands are hard to beat this month,” he advises. Top spots include Diamond, Stony, Pine and Sugar points, but the list is almost endless. “In general you’re looking for sand, clamshell beds and scattered boulders in depths of 10 feet. But don’t be afraid to go deeper, down to 15 feet, in high-pressure areas.
“Leech fishes similar to Cass,” he continues. “It’s a clear lake, and the fish really start moving when the wind kicks up.”
A 1/8- to 1/4-ounce leadhead (here, too, he likes Northland’s Fire-Ball) tipped with a shiner or leech is a lethal weapon. “In windy conditions, give the jig a sharp hop to get their attention. When it’s calm, make 2- to 3-foot rod sweeps, then let the jig fall to bottom.” Live-bait rigs are also deadly (think leeches on 4- to 6-foot snells), as are leeches suspended under slip-floats. The latter tactic, Bro says, is largely overlooked on the lake.
“These are massive structures up to a quarter-mile long,” he cautions. “So good electronics are key as you’re searching for fish.” Bro favors a Humminbird setup, though Lowrance’s HDS Structure and SideScanning units paint an amazingly accurate picture of the underwater world as well.