Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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River water warming slowly along South Dakota border

To get an early fix of walleye fishing, Carney typically takes a trip or two to the Minnesota/South Dakota boundary waters of Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake. (Photo by Steve Carney)

By Steve Carney

Contributing Writer

The Minnesota/South Dakota border waters of Big Stone and Traverse lakes are a couple of my favorite options during April and May, mostly because open-water fishing become an option earlier on those lakes than it does on some of the larger inland lakes in the area.

My spring strategies for Big Stone and Traverse are basic and have worked for decades. Here are some tips for fishing the border waters during the most productive time of year. 

It’s a shallow bite

For walleye fishing these lakes, think extremely shallow water during April and May. Walleyes tend to cruise in the 2- to 4-foot shallows just after the spawn, and males especially are easy to pick off. I use a 1⁄8-ounce jig with a fathead and pitch my bait toward shorelines, docks, and riprap as I probe irregular shoreline features. 

By keeping the boat well away from the shorelines, you can catch multiple fish instead of just one or two. 

Another key is to look for current such as springs that trickle toward shorelines. These springs are common, and walleyes and northern pike love the warmer water that comes from the runoff.  

Give crankbaits a go

It seems a bit early for crankbait fishing, but I tend to do most of my plug trolling if the wind won’t allow me to pitch jigs to shorelines. I start in 5 feet of water with a shallow-running crank and work the shoreline until I make contact with fish. 

If nothing is happening, I switch to a deeper-diving bait and head to the 9- to 11-foot depths and begin trolling once again. Usually one or the other of the depths will result in fish found.  

Don’t forget the evening bite

For the past few years, it’s been a bit tough to catch Big Stone and Traverse walleyes during the day in calm conditions. But the evening bite is always outstanding.

It seems like all the game fish in these two lakes turn on just before dusk and bite like crazy for an hour or so. Expect catfish, walleyes, northern pike, silver bass, and smallmouth bass to hit your offerings. 

When you fish during the evening, watch as local anglers come out to their docks and begin casting during the dusk period. 

This “spring from hell” has resulted in little change in water temperatures – which are well behind what’s normal for this time of year. It’s been freezing at night, and I expect the best fishing is yet to come in mid-May. No matter how early or late the water warms in Big Stone and Traverse, you can always count on the bite to get hot at that time.

It’s also nice to get some walleyes in the bag well before the regular walleye season kicks in come May 14.

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