Advice is cheap, and in this case it's free. But if you are a Minnesota walleye angler, this may be the best free advice you’ve ever received.
The News Tribune asked 10 northern Minnesota fishing guides to offer a tip or two for anglers heading out on the May 15 Minnesota fishing opener.
Pay attention. These guides have something like 200 years of fishing experience between them. They are among the best of the best when it comes to bringing fish to the boat. They are local, know their lakes and rivers, and know what works. They also have been following the ice-out, the spawn and the post-spawn progress of fish this spring.
Heck, a couple of them are even in the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame.
So, in no particular order, here are some ideas on how to fish with what, and in some cases where, to put more walleyes in the livewell next Saturday.
On Lake Vermilion, try windblown points
With the early ice-out on area lakes this year, the walleyes may be a bit scattered. On Lake Vermilion, focus on wind blown shorelines and points, but don’t forget those deep water saddles, pinch areas and troughs in 22-35 feet of water. I like a VMC Mooneye Jig with a rainbow minnow or a live bait rig with a larger minnow. If water temps are in the upper 40’s breaking into the 50-degree range, try Jiggin Raps, Rippin Raps or VMC Hairjigs. Another favorite is jigging with plastic 3-4 inch paddle tails, which work well in shallower water. Adjust your retrieve to the fish's mood. Most important of all … have fun out there!
Wild Country Guide Service, Cook and Minong
vermilionguide.com; 218-403-0128; email@example.com
Start with a jig-and-minnow on Duluth-area lakes
With the early ice-out, the walleyes will be done spawning. Water temperatures could be a lot warmer than typical opening weekends. The water temperatures can be key. Shiner minnows are king after the spawn. Shiners spawn in 50-55 degree water. The water needs to stay consistent for them to spawn. The shiners spawn in areas with down bulrush stands on sandy flats. Don’t be surprised to find the walleyes in 5 feet or less after working hard all spring. As the water temps get higher, look for the fish to be a bit deeper than that in 8-12 feet of water. For our Duluth Reservoirs, following the old river channel out to the main lake is a sure bet. Target walleyes with jigs and minnows or full crawlers. Once you find a couple fish, try using bobbers with leeches or minnows and anchor over that area. Good luck and stay everyone!
Waters Edge Guide Service, Duluth
watersedgeguideservice.com; (763) 242-5849; firstname.lastname@example.org
After a cold front, downsize your presentation
Early in the season when you are chasing walleyes, pay attention to water temperatures and weather changes. Minnesota is known for its changing weather in the spring and if a cold front pops up here are a couple of tips that may put a couple extra fish in the boat.
Many times over the years, scaling back and toning down on jig sizes and minnow sizes can make all the difference in the world of getting bit when a cold front is greeting you. Walleyes, as many species, can slow down when there is a drop in temperature and get sluggish and not be aggressive. If that happens, tie a 1/16-ounce jig on and go to a smaller chub. This has worked for me time and time again over the years in these situations. Work it slow and instead of a jigging retrieve let the action be more of a pull and slide many times stopping for a few seconds and then repeat again. Most often the bite will be weight instead of a hard strike. Hold the fish for a few seconds and firmly set the hook. You will find this method to increase your success during cold-front conditions.
Braided line can detect strikes better at times, but make sure you tie a mono or preferably a fluorocarbon leader. The three knots I prefer when attaching the two lines together are the Double Uni. FNG Knot, and Alberto Knot. All three work excellent and will hold under the toughest of conditions. I choose 6/2 Sufix 832 Braid for its strength and durability when using braid. The sensitivity is amazing and gives you that extra edge when jigging lite jigs early in the season for walleyes.
Minnesota Fishing Connections, Grand Rapids
mnfishingconnections.com; 218-259-2628; email@example.com
Create your own school of fish
A good tactic we utilize on opener (and other times of the year) has to do with "creating our own school" of fish. Most all fish species are competitive by nature, and will sort of fight each other for food. The best way to "create a school" of fish is to not rush any hooked-up fish. Rather, slow down the reeling in of fish, this in turn will capture other nearby fish's interest, and before you know it, you can have your own school of fish to work. Several lure presentations can work, but for the cooler water temps on opener, it is hard to beat a slow hopped Northland RZ Jig tipped with a good-sized Tuffy (Fathead).
Houston's Guide Service, South Range, Wisconsin
houstonsguideservice.com; (218) 393-4962; firstname.lastname@example.org
On the St. Louis River, crawler harness or crankbaits are tops
Saturday, May 15, is the long-awaited opening of the Minnesota fishing season. Around here that means walleyes! Big hungry walleyes ready to do some feeding after a strenuous few weeks of spawning.
With what is shaping up as a typical spring, as far as air temperatures, water levels and water temperatures, I’ll be searching the channels of the St. Louis River estuary for migrating walleyes and then onto the flats where those hungry walleyes will be feeding on shiners and perch.
If you are looking for a tactic, try crawler harnesses or smaller crank baits while searching for schools of fish. Or, if you’re looking farther upstream, a jig and a minnow off of the edge of the current break will prove effective. There should be plenty of 15-18 inch walleyes for eating and a couple of good ones for that “bragging“ photo opportunity.
Nelson’s Guide and Charter Service, Duluth
stlouisriverguy.com; 218-628-1681; email@example.com
Minnows best bet to start season on Gunflint Trail lakes
With the early ice-off and the late date for the opener, and looking like some warmth coming, fish will be biting. It’s going to feel like eternity for the opener to come this year!
So hopefully the crowds will be spread out more as the fish should be, too. Opener for me is not about guiding but fishing with family and friends and having a fish fry! Since I’m a live-bait fisherman my choice of bait in spring versus summer are minnows, once water temps warm up I switch to leeches.
Seagull Creek Fishing Camp, Gunflint Trail
seagullcreekfishingcamp.com; 218-388-9929; firstname.lastname@example.org
On Lake of the Woods, walleyes will be close to shore
With the number of big walleyes caught in the Rainy River that leads into Lake of the Woods this spring, there is a lot of optimism for the opener. Most will be fishing in the Rainy River, Four Mile Bay or adjacent to shoreline and islands. The walleyes won't be far from shore and anchored up and jigging will be the best technique.
The go-to presentation will be a jig and frozen shiner. With the stained waters on Lake of the Woods, gold, glow, pink, chartreuse and/or orange are going to be hot colors. Thread the hook of the jig through the mouth and out the gill of the minnow. Slide the minnow all the way up to the jighead and hook the minnow as far back as possible. This will provide a better hooking percentage. Subtly jig just off the bottom, contacting the bottom at times to pull fish in. Walleyes and saugers won't always give you a tap, sometimes they feel like extra weight, almost like a weed. Set the hook!
Lake of The Woods Tourism/charter captain, Baudette
lakeofthewoodsmn.com; 320-260-7727; email@example.com
On Rainy Lake, try jigging spoons
Quick walleye tip: When walleyes are finicky because of abundant forage, switch to Buckshot jugs or Tingler jigging spoons with head of smaller minnow. Jiggle them like in winter and hang on!
Rainy Lake Houseboats; Rainy Lake Guides Association, International Falls
rainylakehouseboats.com; 218-324-0115; firstname.lastname@example.org
On Duluth area reservoirs, cover water with cranks
On reservoirs such as Island, fish are going to be in transition and on the move. You’ll do best if you stay mobile and cover ground. One of the best ways to scout and fish at the same time is by trolling crankbaits, such as a #5 flicker shad. If you’re dragging bottom too much, try letting less line out or switch to a shallow running bait such as an original rapala. Just cast them out, put your boat in gear, and follow the channel breaks. You’ll catch plenty of fish and likely find some new spots for the future.
Captain Timmon Lund
Catch Your Moment Foundation and Voyageur Charters, Duluth
Catchyourmoment.org; 763-242-6607 email@example.com
For opener, rocky points on Leech Lake hard to beat
This early spring has promoted an early spawn and we are looking forward to the fishing opener this year!
We traditionally start our open-water walleye season on Leech Lake in Cass County, Minnesota. Our focus will be on the main lake rocky points and shallow weed flats in 6 to 10 feet of water, using the wind to our advantage as it will commonly blow the baitfish into these areas. Pitching 1/16 to 1/8 ounce Fireball or Gumball jigs from Northland Fishing tackle in various colors depending on water clarity and sunlight. We tip our jig with either a shiner or rainbow minnow. Utilizing slip bobbers could also be highly productive. Use technology to your advantage if your units are equipped to do so. For instance, we use our side imaging to “find” the fish. Once we’re on them rather than spooking them by constantly trolling over them we will use our “Spot Lock” on our trolling motor or drop our shallow water anchor and just pitch the jig to the school slowly reeling and jigging back on retrieval. We are wishing you all “tight-lines and screaming reels” this opener! Best of luck and safe travels to all anglers!
Justin and Alice Wiese
Wheezy Outdoors Guide Service, Remer
wheezyoutdoors.com; 218-275-7525; firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is the Minnesota opener so late this year?
State law sets Minnesota’s general fishing opener as two Saturdays before Memorial Day weekend. This year, with Memorial Day the latest it can be, on May 31, that puts the fishing opener at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, May 15.
Don’t forget your license
Buy online dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/online-sales.html, or by phone at 888-665-4236 or in person at license agents across the state.
Regulation changes for '21
On Mille Lacs Lake, starting May 15 and continuing through Memorial Day (Monday, May 31) anglers will be allowed to keep one walleye between 21-23 inches or one fish longer than 28 inches. All other walleye must be immediately released.
On Upper Red Lake, this summer the limit is three walleyes daily (down from four last year) with only one walleye longer than 17 inches allowed.
Slow the spread: Clean, drain, dry
Every angler has a responsibility to prevent spreading aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian water milfoil, and it’s not that hard to do.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers and all boaters that conservation officers and AIS inspectors will be out enforcing aquatic invasive species laws, so take a few minutes for invasive species prevention every time a boat comes out of the water.
“All anglers and boaters in Minnesota are required to take three simple steps: clean, drain, dispose,” Kirlin said. “It’s not only the best way to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, but it’s also the law in Minnesota.”
State law requires boaters to clean aquatic plants and debris from watercraft, drain lake or river water and keep drain plugs out during transport, and dispose of unwanted bait in the trash, not in the water.
You also must drain all live wells and bait wells and pull the bilge plug on your boat before leaving the boat landing. The goal is to not move a drop of infested water from one waterway to another.
In addition to these required steps, the DNR also recommends that anglers:
Spray boat and trailer with high-pressure water.
Rinse boat and trailer with very hot water (120° for two minutes; or 140° for 10 seconds); or
Dry boat and equipment for at least five days.
If you fish in a lake infested with spiny water fleas, wipe down your reels and fishing line and any downrigger cables after you are done fishing.
More information is available at mndnr.gov/AIS.
Areas closed to fishing to protect spawning walleyes
The St. Louis River, upstream from the Highway 23 bridge to the Minnesota-Wisconsin boundary cable, through May 18. (Upstream from the cable to the Fond du lac Dam is a fish sanctuary and is always closed to fishing.)
Cross River from the Gunflint Trail to Gunflint Lake, through May 28.
Little Gunflint Lake and channel into North Lake, through May 31.
Saganaga Falls, where the Granite Rivers enters Saganaga Lake, through May 31.
Sea Gull River, from Sea Gull Lake through Gull Lake to Saganaga Lake, through May 28.
Governor Walz fishing in Otter Tail County
Minnesota has since 1948 held an annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener. Each year, the event is hosted by the current governor, the Explore Minnesota tourism office, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a new host community each year.
After taking last year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 73rd Governor's Fishing Opener will take place May 13-15 in Otter Tail County in western Minnesota. Fishing enthusiasts from across the state can also join in a virtual statewide fishing derby via FishDonkey with prizes awarded. For more information go to mngovernorsopener.com.