Have you ever wondered where the pros fish for the MN walleye opener? (Us too! They usually don’t even tell their wives lol.) We reached out to 5 of the top walleye pros from the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ to find out where they’re headed this weekend’s opener and how they expect to catch ‘em:
> I’m on the fence. My initial thought was to hit Pool 4 and Lake Pepin. Unseasonably cool weather is about to hit just before the opener, and typically river fish will shake off that effect a bit better. That said, we’re also getting some good rains, and I’d prefer not to fish rising water, so I may hop in the boat with some buddies and head up north to Leech.
> At either location, I’ll probably be using rainbows or shiners presented a number of ways. VMC Hot Skirt Glow Jigs for pitching shallow water and flats, or rigging them if fish are pushed deeper than anticipated.
> If I do head up north, I’ll be doing some night fishing with the new Rapala Shadow Rap Shad. I gave stickbaits a go last opener on Leech, and during the day, fish were too deep to target effectively with jerkbaits.
> Some of my most memorable openers were years ago fishing shallow sand flats at night with an Original Floating Minnow. No offense to the floater, it’s an oldie and a goodie, but the new kid on the block will rise ultra-slow on the pause, and has some subdued rattles for a bit of vibration after dark.
> Each year for the opener I try to hit two lakes with almost always one of them being Mille Lacs. My plan this year is to fish Big Stone Lake on the border of MN and SD for walleyes.
> This fertile body of water always warms quicker and the walleye bite should truly be on. The other advantage is all the fisherman that have been on the water: Big Stone opened a couple of weeks ago, thus less traffic.
> I will concentrate on shallow water shorelines pitching Berkley Ripple Shads, and probably #5 Rapala Shad Raps. I am assuming water temps will be in the 60s and expect to catch fish in 3-6’ of water. Once you locate the fish, the bite can be hot and heavy in these shallow lakes.
> My second choice is going to be Mille Lacs. For this large body of water I will be fishing walleyes and smallmouth bass. The great part is I will catch them both together using the same technique of pitching paddletails into the shallows.
> For this lake if I am not seeing the fish, I will concentrate even shallower. Many times I am tight to the shoreline. If fall was any indicator I expect a great population of both the walleyes and the smallmouth to be present. In all these cases pay attention to the forage, learn more about what they eat, and worry less about the target species.
> In each case I always go out with high expectations and certainly look forward to spending time on the water. If you see me floating around in my Alumacraft 205 Competitor please take the time to stop by and say hello.
> I usually hit a different lake each year, but this year I’m going to open up on Leech Lake. In MN you can usually count on a windy and nasty opener — Leech is one of those lakes where you can always find fishable areas to get out of the swells if it gets really bad. Plus, there’s lots of hungry walleyes to be caught.
> I’ll be targeting wind-blown points and shallow sand areas. Add some patches of weeds to the mix and now we’re talkin’.
> My go-to presentations include Northland Fire-Ball Jigs tipped with fathead minnows or a Northland RZ Jig with a shiner. Firetiger, parakeet and parrot are traditional Leech Lake colors — all of that contrasting perch stuff is lights out.
> We will be fishing in cold front conditions this opener — lighten up those jigheads to the lightest size you can get away with and add a stinger hook if they’re fussy. All the wind and waves we’ve had lately have dirtied up the water — so don’t worry about fishing vertical in the shallow, 7 to 8-ft stuff — they’ll bite.
> I plan to fish Leech Lake on opening day for a number or reasons. First is tradition. Personally, for me MN walleye opener is about time in a boat with friends fishing, contagious energy and excitement shared among anglers in other boats, catching fish and a fish-fry.
> Leech will have all of that plus it is my home water — I live on Leech and really enjoy the festivities that go with opening day. Leech will be busy with boats that have excited anglers of all ages, genders and abilities on board chasing walleyes and for me, all that is part of opening day.
> To experience MN opening walleye season you have to be part of the crowd, not avoid it. I love talking with other boats, laughing amongst anglers and congratulating people when they catch a fish. I know I will see other anglers I know and seeing friends is all part of the opening day experience.
> 2016 had an average ice-out date with slightly above average air temps since that day. I expect to find post-spawn walleyes scattered on sandy grass flats in 6-10′.
> It’s pretty standard for me to fish Leech Lake early season with a Stand-up Fire-Ball Jig tipped with a shiner minnow. Once again, tradition. Usually 1/8-oz and perch imitating colors are best for me.
> I like to drift & let out plenty of Bionic Monofilament line, 6 LB Camo, as so the line is at about a 45 degree angle. That said, if it is cloudy and/or windy fish can be shallower and if calm and sunny fish maybe deeper.
> As for jig cadence, I most often will snap the jig as the boat drifts and let it free-fall. Walleyes crush it on the descent. However, there are times they will only eat a meal if it is on the bottom, dragged.
> If the fish prefer it scooting along the bottom, I will switch to a Northland Tackle Swivel-Head Jig tipped with a shiner or piece of crawler. This is a new walleye jig I played with late last summer/fall and was super effective in deeper water.
> This rookie piece of tackle may be perfect for spring conditions like this. If so, the Swivel Head Jig may find itself on my opening day tackle roster for years to come – because part of opening day tradition is catching fish!
> My favorite lake is Mille Lacs and my favorite way to catch walleyes is trolling and casting crankbaits in shallow water – so that’s exactly what I’ll be doing for opener this weekend.
> The fishing was excellent this past winter on Mille Lacs and I’m very optimistic that the early spring will lead to a hot bite for opener as the water will be a little warmer than normal and the fish should have had ample time to recover from the spawn.
> My secret weapon for targeting shallow spring walleyes, especially in warmer water temps, is to troll Rapala SSR bent-lip shad raps in blue/silver or natural perch colors. I love using shad-profile baits!
> The SSRs allow me to troll them back from 100-130′ behind the boat — this is key as it allows us to keep it far enough behind the boat to avoid spooking fish while fishing in water as shallow as 3-5′.
> We will also be running more traditional shallow water trolling baits such as #10 and #12 Husky Jerks but I have a hunch that with warmer water temps the shad style baits are going to win out this year.
> A couple key tricks that I’m hoping will help make our game-plan successful will be trolling in stealth mode using our Minn Kota Terrova. Trolling with the Terrova also allows me to have very precise speed control because sometimes even changing speeds up or down by 0.1 or 0.2 mph can make all the difference in the world.
> Once we find an active school we can also use Spot-Lock to quickly anchor. Oh, and you’re required to have a good-luck fishing-opener mustache in my boat — no curl, just old school bad cop look.
> As much as I’d love to have my honey holes all to myself this weekend I sure do hope that the C&R only doesn’t keep people from joining me on Mille Lacs. I’d love to see the lake packed as our friends up there need our support — so please if you do come up buy bait local and stop for some food and coffee at the local shops. And if you decide, like me, that Rapalas are on the menu this opener, just make sure to have a tight grip on your rod because the strikes can be absolutely vicious!