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Top Opening-Day Walleye Lakes

Top Opening-Day Walleye Lakes

Are you looking for a place where you can catch a mess of walleyes on the opener? Then hit one of these lakes!

by Tim Lesmeister

There are two days each year that a majority of sportsmen and sportswomen relish. One is the deer opener and the other is the fishing opener.

The deer opener has a half-million armed Minnesotans taking to the woods to chase whitetails. The fishing opener has a million bait-laden anglers taking to the lakes and rivers to chase walleyes. There seems to be no end to the enjoyment that people find in being in the right place at the right time on that first day of the season. For many, there are traditions to be followed; for others it's just a sign that something is about to begin.

Each year prior to the opening day of fishing you find many outdoor journalists making their predictions on what lakes will bear fruit. Should the reports after the opener show that a particular pundit was on target with his predictions, you can count on that wordsmith actively reminding readers of his prowess in picking winners. Should the chosen lakes fail their duty to provide the proper bite, then oh well, one can just blame the weather.

The bottom line is that there are many conditions that will affect whether a lake is hot or cold on the opener: the weather, the population of walleyes, the lake depth, the water temperature - and these are just a few. But one thing is certain. Being on the right lake on the opener is a matter of luck. And if you want to get lucky on the 2002 opener, pick a lake that has high potential for being lucky on the opener.

A high-potential lake is one that has a good population of walleyes, is not too deep and not too clear, and has a reputation for opening well. Then - if the stars and moons and planets line up for you on that glorious day - you, too, will be able to utter that classic phrase on Monday at your job, "Man, you should have been there yesterday."

Let's look at a few high-potential opener options that might turn on if conditions are right.


Photo by Michael Skinner

Lincoln County
Lake Hendricks is a border water with South Dakota, so it's been open for a couple of weeks by the state's official opening day. It's still a great lake to consider for the opener because the walleye fishing there really doesn't start to get good until mid-May.

Hendricks is about 1,550 acres of pothole with a maximum depth of 12 feet. There's little structure and the walleyes tend to be very nomadic - here today, gone tomorrow.

A good option on Hendricks is the bottom bouncer and spinner rig. This presentation allows an angler to cover some ground and find the walleyes. Once you discover a group of fish, then you can switch to a live-bait rig or a jig if they're tightly bunched. If the walleyes prove to be spread out, stick with the search rig and cover some ground.

For more information, visit the Hendricks Web site: www.brookings.

Hennepin County
Lake Independence is on the west edge of Hennepin County in the Baker Park Reserve of the Hennepin Parks. This lake has been a real walleye "sleeper" the past few years and has been super hot on the opener.

Anglers won't find a lot of midlake structure in Independence. There's one small hump right in the middle of the lake, but you seldom find walleyes there on the opener. The majority of the opening-day walleyes are on the points and inside turns on the shoreline-oriented structure.

The most productive technique on Independence on the opener is the live-bait rig slowly pulled in 13 to 22 feet of water with a leech or night crawler. There are big numbers of walleyes in the lake, so finding a school of fish shouldn't take long. Trust your sonar and if you see some fish on the screen, work them for a while before moving on.

For more information, call the Hennepin Parks at (763) 559-9000 or visit their Web site, which is at

Itasca County
The Chippewa National Forest has a wealth of great lakes, but none are better on the opener than 1,700-acre Lake Jessie.

This lake has some midlake humps that are productive for those big fish that have already migrated to the deeper structure. It might take some patience, but there will be some larger fish swimming on the sand and rocks in the middle of the lake.

The points and inside turns will hold numbers of fish, and these schools can be found with a well-positioned leech or night crawler. It's hard to beat the live-bait rig on Jessie unless you decide to chase some walleyes in the bulrush.

For the bulrush walleyes you need to anchor the boat and cast a slip-bobber rig right to the edge of the emergent vegetation. On those classic spring days when the skies are partly cloudy and there's a light breeze blowing out of the west, you can count on finding some walleyes on the edge of the standing grass.

For more information, visit the Itasca County Web site, at

Lake County
It takes some work to get to Basswood Lake. The lake is in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and a portage from Fall Lake to Newton and Newton to Basswood is required to access it, but the labor is worth it.

Boats with motors are permitted on Basswood (there is a 25-horsepower limit). You can also use a set of portage wheels to get the boats there. It's an efficient way to get a boat and motor in to Basswood and it's a great way to chase the walleyes there.

You often find the walleyes shallow on the opener, 8 to 12 feet deep. A good way to catch them is by casting a jig-and-minnow right into them. Keep the jig small, nothing over 1/8 ounce, and the retrieve must be slow.

Keep one eye on the sonar as you motor from rockpile to rockpile. If the walleyes are deep, you should use a vertical jigging approach. The fish will likely be neutral in the deeper water and the bite will be light, but the walleyes seldom fail to cooperate on the opener on Basswood.

For more information, contact Bill Slaughter at the Northwoods Guiding Service at (218) 365-2650.

Cass/Itasca Counties

With 58,500 acres to choose from on this huge north-central lake, opening-day anglers shouldn't have any problem finding a spot all by themselves in which to chase walleyes. But there are some opening-day locations on Winni that are much more popular than others.

The points and bulrush beds up in the Cutfoot Sioux portion of Winnibigoshish have been hotter than hot on the past few openers and predictions are running in favor of a repeat for 2002.

The sand points and rubble flats extending out from the shorelines of the big basin are also going to collect a lot of opening-day anglers.

The hot technique for these spots is a jig-and-minnow. You pitch the jig to the walleyes and just drag it over the bottom. You will feel a slight bit of tension and that is your cue to set the hook.

For more information, call Judd's Resort at 1-800-635-8337.

Stearns County
The walleyes on the opener in Rice Lake will be concentrated in pockets, but they won't all be on the south end where the Crow River enters and exits. It always seems that the south end gets a lot of attention on the opener, when in fact there are walleyes in all of the three basins. It's just a matter of finding some.

There's not a lot of midlake structure in any of the basins, but the lake has a large population of walleyes and they can be found by keying on the points and shallow, tapering flats that extend from the shoreline into deeper water.

The lake is over 1,600 acres, so it pays to take a section and work it well before moving on. The water clarity is good, so you want to make sure you use light line on your live-bait rigs and keep the bait lively.

For more information, visit the Paynesville Web site: www.seekon. com/L/US/MN/Paynesville.

Blue Earth County
The prairie pothole lakes are typically your best openers. They're shallow, so they warm up quickly, and the walleye numbers are unbelievably high. The reason these lakes don't get more pressure is that they don't provide the textbook walleye structure, and many walleye anglers just don't know what it takes to catch the fish there.

Lura Lake, just south of Mapleton, is 1,200 acres in size, but the maximum depth is only 9 feet. To be successful on Lura you need to consider how the subtle bottom changes become important. All it takes to hold a few dozen walleyes on Lura is a moderate depression in the gravel bottom. You also need to realize that the shallow water will likely put the fish in a mood in which they're more likely to spook from the noise of a large motor.

With that in mind, make sure you use a short amount of distance between the weight and the bait when setting up your live-bait rig, and instead of using your big gas motor to back-troll or stay in position on a drift, use an electric motor sparingly.

For more information, visit the Blue Earth Web site, at

Douglas County
Lake Mary is a perennial favorite when it comes to opening-day walleye lakes. This 2,300-acre lake has a good population of walleyes, there are many resorts on the lake to satisfy your need for comfortable lodging, and the fish have been known to turn on when that magic opening day rolls around.

Most of the walleye anglers like to hover over the long point on the north end. This point extends out over three-quarters of the basin and is bordered on both sides by the two deepest regions in the lake. This spot holds all the right characteristics for outstanding walleye fishing. It also holds all the anglers.

There are also plenty of walleyes hanging along the edge of the bulrush and sitting on the bottom near the deep weedline. Use a live-bait rig with a leech and plenty of space between the weight and the bait to tempt these marginally harassed fish.

For more information, visit the Alexandria area Web site, at

Otter Tail County
Take a 45-degree right turn out of the boat landing on the southeast side of South Ten Mile Lake, put the motor in idle and survey some of the finest opening-day walleye fishing in western Minnesota.

South Ten Mile is loaded with walleyes, and there are enough productive points, inside turns, sunken islands and bulrush beds to keep everyone spread out and catching fish.

On the opener, set up a drift on the east side of the lake in 12 to 22 feet of water. A bow- or transom-mounted electric motor will allow you to mosey into different depths as you slowly drift along. Use a live-bait rig with 6 to 8 feet of distance between the weight and the bait. The water is clear, so use a small hook on 6-pound-test line and lively leeches.

The big walleyes will be spread out and tough to find on the opener on South Ten Mile, but the 2- to 3-pounders will be grouped up. If you hook into one of the smaller fish, make sure to work that area. A big fish likely will mean you keep moving and keep looking.

For more information, visit the Otter Tail County Web site, at

McLean County
I always get a lot of cards, letters and phone calls from people when I write about a smaller lake. These concerned anglers always feel that any mention of the great fishing on "their" favorite body of water will result in the lake getting fished out and result in poor fishing for the life of the lake. I have yet to see this happen.

Since I travel our state and fish the lakes I profile, I get back to many that I've featured. What I have discovered is that the lakes that are great are always going to be great unless something in the makeup of the lake changes. Small lakes may take a hit from a lot of fishing pressure, but they bounce back very fast and usually stay productive. With that in mind, let's discuss Hook Lake in McLeod County.

This lake carries a lot of 20-inch walleyes in its 325 acres. There's one small rockpile near the island, but the majority of the bottom is relatively featureless. The lake is only 18 feet deep at the maximum.

Finding walleyes in Hook on the opener calls for a heavier weight and the bait near the bottom. Some anglers prefer a three-way swivel rig for this type of fishing, while others seem to think a bottom bouncer is the answer to the question "How do I find the walleyes on this lake?"

Since the water visibility on Hook is low, adding a brightly colored spinner blade to the rig will help generate some attraction. Make sure it's a small blade unless you discover the walleyes are on a good bite; then you might be prone to step up a size or two.

For more information, visit the Hutchinson Web site, at

* * *
The reason some anglers achieve success on opening day while others do not is that many don't understand that the walleyes are in a transition period. The walleyes have just finished spawning and are moving into their spring and summer patterns. All those techniques refined to catch those summer walleyes that are following a predictable routine fail to produce when it comes to opening-day fish.

Opening-day walleyes will not be predictable. They could be shallow, they could be deep, and they could be anywhere in between. The walleyes in any body of water on the opener can be relating to the weeds, the gravel, a mud flat or even docks and subtle bottom contours.

You never know what baits will be effective. That's why you're always told to carry night crawlers, leeches and minnows. Any one of these baits, or all of them, can be the hot ticket on the opener.

Suffice it to say that opening day is more for fishing than catching, and you want to get excited about being on the water more than setting the hook. And if you do find a school of walleyes and some of them take you up on what you're offering, then be happy - you had a lucky day!

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