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Top tactics for Minnesota’s walleye opener

By Al Lindner

Angling Buzz

The Minnesota fishing opener is this Saturday, May 14. To many, it’s more than just a weekend of fishing – it’s a tradition.

After a few months of neglect, walleyes are again at the top of anglers’ “most wanted” lists. Minnesota anglers have their choice of some of the nation’s top walleye-fishing destinations. Areas surrounding these fish factories will undoubtedly see a temporary population spike as anglers set out in search of walleyes. 

While the fishing season is kicking off a little later than normal, spring weather, for the most part, hasn’t behaved in a typical manner. In the Brainerd area, ice is usually off the lakes around April 15. But this year, a lot of lakes in northern Minnesota still had ice days before the opener. 

This means lake water is going to be cold – likely very cold. With the spawn kicking into high gear when water’s in the mid-40-degree range, walleyes will be in varying degrees of pre-spawn, spawn, and post-spawn. Depending on the lake you fish, you may find walleyes in all three stages.

Look to smaller bodies of water and rivers to find fish in the advanced stages of the spawning. It’s more likely that these fish will be in the post-spawn stage and willing to bite. For larger lakes, such as Lake Mille Lacs, water temperatures will be relatively low, and fish will likely be in the spawning phase. 

As a general rule, walleyes are going to be shallow this time of year. When I say shallow, I mean less than 8 feet of water. Most walleye anglers don’t consider fishing that shallow, but that’s where the fish will be. 

Focus your efforts on areas related to the spawn – feeder creeks, rock flats, and main-lake points, especially those impacted by wind direction. Water temperature is driven by prevailing wind direction this time of year, so position yourself in areas where the wind is blowing warmer water. 

Electronics, specifically Humminbird’s Mega Side Imaging and Mega 360 Imaging, are fantastic tools for tracking down shallow walleyes because they allow you to see away from the boat. As walleyes get shallower, they tend to spread out, so look for smaller pods of four to five fish. 

In these shallow-water scenarios, casting will put more fish in the boat. Driving over a school of walleyes when they’re this shallow is like parting the Red Sea and will send fish in all directions. Keeping your presentation away from the boat will result in more bites. This isn’t old-school walleye fishing. Move quickly and methodically to cover water and find the most active fish. The smaller males will be the most active, especially after the spawn.  

Hair jigs have been catching walleyes long before such jigs were cool. A relatively new option to this historic bait category is VMC’s Moon Tail Jig, which was tailor-made for snap-jigging. Three-to 4-inch boot tails, paired with VMC’s Mooneye Jig, are no stranger to catching walleyes either. The Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad series features a wide range of walleye-centric color choices, including chartreuse, pink, and purple.

If you can’t give up the live bait, shiners – and specifically spottail shiners – are king of the spring. It’s important to let these baits fall on a slack line after snapping your rod. Walleyes will often strike on the drop.

High-visibility braid line paired with a lengthy fluorocarbon leader is advantageous for jig fishing. These bright lines allow you to make long casts and to detect strikes on a slack line. Use high-quality knots, like the FG (fine grip), to ensure braid to fluorocarbon connections can pass through guides with ease. 

Experiment with your jig size. A 1⁄8-ounce jig will cover most opener situations, but there are times to go lighter and times to go heavier. If fish are inactive, drop down in weight. It’s important to test various cadences and retrieves as well. The right snapping cadence can make all the difference between catching fish or not. 

Opening day comes only once a year, so make it a memorable one. Employ the right tools and techniques and you’ll ultimately put more fish in the boat.

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