For many Minnesotans, the opening of the walleye season is the equivalent to Christmas in May! If you haven't decided where to go fishing yet, you can pick up your "gifts" on these lakes. (April 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Brand-new line on your reels: check. Tackle box cleaned out and all the lures in their proper places: check. Two of every hot crankbait: check. A lot of jigs of every size and color: check. Spinner- and live-bait rig snells pre-tied and perfectly wound on the snell holder: check. Boat vacuumed out and life preservers in place: check. Food and beverages in the cooler and properly iced: check.
You're ready for opener!
It's that glorious day when Minnesotans from all over our state head to the lakes with high expectations of catching walleyes. Opener is a tradition that could be described as Christmas morning for grown-ups. Anglers slip into bed the night before they are to venture out on the water, with giddy excitement of what awaits them when they wake up.
So where do you go on opener? There are thousands of options in Minnesota where Wanda The Walleye may show you the courtesy of joining you in the boat. Is it a lake with the cabin that has been in the family for years and has been an opening-day delight for multiple generations? Is it a lake close to home that has produced well in the past? Or do you head way north, or down south, putting some miles on that trusty fishing wagon to make a vacation out of the opener?
Whatever your formula for finding the perfect fishing lake on opener, it is to your benefit to realize that finding the hot bite is really just a matter of being on the right lake at the right time. There are always variables that can help put you in the right spot, such as weather, fish numbers, water temperature, where the fish are in the spawning cycle and fishing pressure, but the most important factor is luck. Gary Roach always says when it comes to fishing, you make your own luck, and he's been known to switch lakes in the middle of the day when his first choice on opening day wasn't producing walleyes.
So keep your fingers crossed, have fun and take a look at these great options where it's easy to get lucky when chasing walleyes on opener.
ALBERT LEA LAKE
According to Hugh Valiant, the Department of Natural Resources' fisheries supervisor for the southern region that includes this lake, there have been some water-quality issues that have been addressed, and now Albert Lea Lake is drastically improving in that regard. While anglers do like to fish lakes where there is some decent visibility and deeper weed growth, their top priority is whether there are fish to be caught.
"We have been stocking walleyes in Albert Lea, and the numbers couldn't be better," Valiant said. "In our last survey, there were 85 walleyes per gill net. And the fish are in great shape."
Valiant explained that growth rates in the southern Minnesota lakes result in quality fishing.
"The walleyes in these highly fertile lakes grow fast, and they get big," he said. "This lake has never received the fishing pressure it deserves, but once anglers discover there are a lot of walleyes, that will change."
Albert Lea fits the definition of pothole lake. In its 2,600 acres you'll be hard-pressed to find water over 6 feet deep. With no structure to key on, anglers must use search techniques like trolling crankbaits and casting jigs until they connect with a pod of walleyes, then they drop anchor and pitch out the slip-bobbers.
For more information, contact the Bait Shack at (507) 377-1590.
This is another of Valiant's recommendations.
"There was a winterkill here in February of 2004," Valiant said. "We performed a stocking and it really took. There were over 50 walleyes per net in our latest survey, and most of those walleyes are pushing the 18-inch range already."
A testament to the ability of these pothole lakes to recover due to the longer growth periods and large amounts of forage, Waseca County's Lake Elysian is also a pothole in every sense.
Anglers will find 8 to 10 feet of water under the boat being the deepest there is. The walleyes in Elysian, like their cousins in other pothole lakes in the region, like to wander in their search for perch or other forage fish. While anglers are often told that a solid rule is walleyes like to stick tight to bottom, the 'eyes in Elysian can be found anywhere in the water column, from a foot below the surface to the bottom. So, don't rule out any water in this lake.
For more information, contact Whitewater Bait at (507) 362-4277.
LAKE OF THE WOODS
Let's go from one end of the state to the other. Let's also go from one extreme to the other. Lake of the Woods is huge, almost 1 million acres, and there is a lot of structure, even though most anglers who have never been there could look at a lake map and see only a big bowl. There are sandbars, rockpiles, points, sunken islands and miles of slow-tapering bottom regions where walleyes suspend a foot or two off the floor. It just depends on where you go.
"On Red, it's all about catching walleyes, not so much about
keeping fish. You have to stay
in that 17- to 26-inch slot, with only one over 26 inches, and it's only a two-fish limit. It's pretty
restrictive when it comes to
keeping fish, but you can catch 100 on opener, and that's what everyone is there for."
According to Gregg Hennum, who has spent much of his life on the big lake and is the proprietor of Sportsman's Lodge, anglers have plenty of options when they come to this big lake.
"If it's structure you're looking for," he said, "head up to the Northwest Angle. This is where you will be finding walleyes on points that are extending off the islands. There will be walleyes on the rubble near the sand shorelines and on the shelves where it drops off quickly into deeper water."
Hennum said if you're heading out of the river mouth -- known as The Gap -- into the main basin, just take a left onto the sand flats and drag a jig or a live-bait rig in 3 to 15 feet of water.
"Those walleyes slip up and down on the sand all day long, and they can be at a lot of different depths," Hennum said. "There are always a lot of boats there on opener, but there are also a lot of fish caught there, so that explains the boats."
If the big water intimidates you, just hire a guide. There are many angle
rs who make a living by taking people out on this tremendous resource. They have the boat, equipment and knowledge of the lake to make sure you catch fish.
For more information, visit the Sportsman's Lodge Web site at www.sportsmanslodgelow.com.
Anglers who just can't wait to take a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for some walleye action and who schedule their trips for the opener have been disappointed. In the not-so-distant past, the water has been too cold and the walleyes were in a funk at that time. But in the last couple of years, the ice has gone out sooner and the weather has been warmer, and thus the water temperature higher. This has resulted in some "outstanding" openers, according to Bill Slaughter, a BWCAW guide and lifelong resident of Ely.
"For a lake the size of Basswood and considering the amount of walleyes there, there's hardly any fishing pressure," Slaughter said. "So when you do get the right conditions coming together, which has been happening the past couple of openers, you can catch a lot of walleyes."
Slaughter's game plan for a Basswood opener is to take 14-foot fishing boats with 15-horsepower motors -- which is legal on parts of the lake -- and use portage wheels to get the boats in.
"A lot of folks take canoes," Slaughter said. "I just prefer to fish comfortably out of a boat. You can get to the best spots quicker and stay on top of the walleyes easier."
Slaughter said the best spots on opening day are where there is some water running into the lake, so look for the mouths of rivers and creeks. He also keys on necked-down areas where migrating walleyes will congregate and lie in the slow current moving through, and bringing food along with it.
For more information, visit Slaughter's Web site at www.elymnguide.com, or call him toll-free at 1-800-559-9695.
UPPER RED LAKE
The tribal netting on this huge lake in northern Minnesota destroyed the walleye population some years back, but the void that was created was filled by black crappies, and it started a phenomenon that will long be remembered. However, through a joint effort between the Red Lake tribe and the DNR, Upper Red Lake is now back to its peak in numbers of catchable walleyes for anglers.
"If there is one drawback to fishing Red on opener, it's that a lot of people know its potential and there are a lot of boats on top of those walleyes." This statement came from Mark Courts, a Professional Walleye Trail tournament champion and a frequent Red Lake visitor who echoes the sentiments of many who were there last year, which was the first open season for walleyes since the restocking.
"The slot limits are pretty restrictive," Courts said, "but that didn't stop a lot of guys from fishing there. On Red, it's all about catching walleyes, not so much about keeping fish. You have to stay in that 17- to 26-inch slot, with only one over 26 inches, and it's only a two-fish limit. It's pretty restrictive when it comes to keeping fish, but you can catch 100 on opener, and that's what everyone is there for."
Only a portion of the lake is open to non-tribal anglers, so take along a GPS and heed the warning of the DNR to stay east of the longitudinal coordinate of 94° 43' 12.0" W to ensure you are on state waters.
For more information, contact Hillman's Store at (218) 647-8504.
Lake Winni is now easily in the top 10 of "the most consistently productive opening-day lake" categories, but this wasn't the case until the past five years. According to Ron Hunter, or Captain Ron as he is affectionately referred to by everyone he guides, Winni has been the beneficiary of shoreline improvements that have expanded spawning beds and increased the numbers of walleyes drastically. This, in conjunction with optimum weather conditions around the openers, has resulted in some incredible catches.
"It's a structure lake," Hunter said. "Lots of reefs and rockpiles have walleyes on them, but on opener, you might find me right on the shallow sand points casting a jig and minnow."
If you want company, just motor up into the Cutfoot Sioux Lake.
"Cutfoot has always been a popular place on opener," Hunter said, "and there will be a lot of fishermen up in that lake. But if you want walleyes all to yourself, and there are plenty of them, work the points with jigs. You don't have to fish deep. Or work a sand flat with a Roach Rig. That works great, too."
For more information, go to www.captainronwalleye.com, or give Hunter a call at (218) 665-2488.
A few years ago when Governor Jessie Ventura went to Pelican Lake for the Governor's Fishing Opener, a wind-driven cold front made walleye fishing tough. It's too bad these conditions complicated what a great opening-day lake Pelican is capable of being.
"There are just so many walleyes there that it's not to tough to find them," said Mr. Walleye, Gary Roach. "Of course, there is a lot of structure as well, and that can confuse some of the anglers who are starting from scratch."
Roach's trick is to let the wind tell him where to go.
"There are lots of points in
Pelican, but my favorites are
the ones near the sand flats
that extend into deeper water,"
Roach said. "On points, I use a
Northland Fireball Stand-Up Jig tipped with a minnow. You don't pop or swim the jig. You just
drag it along the bottom.
Walleyes will slurp it right up."
"There are going to be walleyes roaming the sand flats, and if the wind is blowing from the west, I fish the east side. If it's blowing from the north, I fish the sand on the south end."
To fish the sand, Roach will strain the shallow flat with a Roach Rig and a leech.
"You don't fish this by using a vertical presentation," he explained. "Let out a lot of line and drag that rig 50 or 60 feet out behind the boat. The fish are spread out, so don't feel compelled to find a 'spot' because that just doesn't work when you're fishing the sand."
Roach also likes to pitch jigs on opener, and for that he heads to the points.
"There are lots of points in Pelican, but my favorites are the ones near the sand flats that extend into deeper water," Roach said. "On points, I use a Northland Fireball Stand-Up Jig tipped with a minnow. You don't pop or swim the jig. You just drag it along the bottom. Walleyes will slurp it right up."
For more information, contact the Sportsman's Store at (218) 765-3707.
Here's where I'll be on opener, and I'll be catching plenty of walleyes. The opener on Minnetonka has been awesome for the past few years, mainly because the walleyes are everywhere they are supposed to be.
I put in at Carson's Bay before the sun comes up and slowly motor into St. Louis Bay. Between the swimming docks and the boat docks to the south, I'll pitch a jig and minnow. It drops off quickly on this spot, and there will be some milfoil along the shoreline. You want the jig to hit the water right on the edge of the vegetation and drop straight to the bottom. Then hop it back each time while letting it rest on the sand.
When the sun starts shining, I'll head over to the sunken islands on the east side of the Arcola bridge and pull a Roach Rig and minnow, leech or night crawler. The vegetation will be sparse in 12 to 20 feet of water, and the walleyes will be lying around the strips of old coontail and milfoil. Every once in awhile you set the hook on a dandy walleye when you're fishing this spot.
By 10 a.m., we'll have moved over to St. Albins Bay to chase pike, and after lunch, we head over to Lafayette Bay for more of those northerns. As the sun waxes low on the horizon, we'll be in Browns Bay fishing the outer edge of Horseshoe Reef with the Roach Rigs again.
When it gets dark, it's time to head back to Carsons Bay to work the west shoreline docks with floating crankbaits. Use the long, narrow shallow divers and retrieve them slowly so they're only a foot or two below the surface. At night, the walleyes really like the docks on Minnetonka.
For more information, contact the experts at Minnetonka Outdoors at (952) 470-8800.
* * *
Yes, the opener is like Christmas, and the walleyes are our gifts. Let's hope Santa Wanda is good to you this year. Merry Opener!
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