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Tuesday, June 25th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Al Lindner: Top tips for early-season walleyes

Reports suggest Minnesota anglers saw a fast bite and excellent start to the inland waters walleye and pike season during the opener. Seasoned anglers know the remainder of May and into June offers the best walleye fishing of the year. (Image courtesy of Lindner Media Productions)

The 2024 Minnesota game-fishing season has arrived. The fishing opener – a tradition rivaled only by that of the firearms deer season – came on May 11, but the thrill of catching prime-time, early-season walleyes remains.

Some of most popular early-season destinations include Mille Lacs, Vermilion, Upper Red, Winnibigoshish, Otter Tail, and Leech lakes. There’s no question that these areas will see a temporary population spike during the first stanza of the new season.

During this period of time in May, weather, wind, and water temperature are the primary factors that dictate fish location. Although the ice went out a bit earlier than normal, Mother Nature certainly kept things in check. As a result, I’d expect these first couple of weeks of the season to be pretty on par – meaning the spawn should be wrapped up, but walleyes will still be relatively shallow.

On clear-water lakes, walleyes should be found in 6 to 10 feet of water, while they’ll likely be a bit shallower, like 3 to 6 feet, in stained bodies of water. Focus your efforts on shallow flats – particularly those near spawning areas. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t be long until fish transition to slightly deeper water.


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Tools such as Humminbird’s Mega Side Imaging and Mega Live are truly invaluable for locating shallow-water walleyes. The ability to see fish a great distance from the boat is markedly advantageous, especially when they’re this shallow.

Shallow-water scenarios often result in easily-spooked fish, so it’s a good reminder to proceed with caution. Boat traffic and angling pressure can easily drive fish out of an area. Keeping your distance from the crowds and focus on getting baits away from the boat. Both certainly will result in more bites.


In terms of lures, there’s no better early-season option than a jig. They’re arguably the most versatile presentation. For most anglers, shiners will be the bait of choice, because they’re essentially irresistible to walleyes.

Personally, I prefer the fake stuff. In my opinion, artificial options have become so advanced that there’s rarely a need to rely on the real stuff.

Plastics, such as boot tails and straight tails, come in a wide range walleye-centric sizes and colors. My personal favorite artificial option is the hair jig.

Options such as the VMC Moontail were tailor-made for walleye fishing and give a new look to this staple. In these shallow-water situations, 1⁄8-ounce jigs are the main option, but a touch heavier or a touch lighter may be necessary, depending on the conditions.

Casting and long-line drifting will be among the most popular techniques in mid- to late May. If you want to beat the crowds, nighttime fishing with lighted slip bobbers or trolling crankbaits are some great options to put walleyes in the boat. For me, however, snap-jigging will be the main program.

Important reminder

An important reminder: Let the baits fall on a slack line; this is often when walleyes strike. It’s helpful to experiment with different snapping cadences, because the right snap or drop can make all the difference.

In my opinion, there’s no better tool for snapping a jig than a 6-foot-8 medium-power, fast-action rod. My walleye setups are finished off with 8-pound Sufix 832 braid and tipped with an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

May offers some of the best walleye fishing of the entire season, so take advantage of the eagerness of early-season walleyes.

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