As I sit writing this on one of the last days of January, the temperature outside has yet to nudge above the 0 degree mark! Nevertheless, I know that nicer days are ahead and that in just a couple months I could potentially be back in a boat on open water. Here are some of the wishes I have for the coming season, particularly regarding walleye fishing.
Early season jigs
There might not be much more of a thrill in fishing than when the first walleye of the season “thunks” a jig after a long winter. The first bite of the season has happened lots of times for me on the Rainy River as this world class fishery hosts a famed spring walleye run for both numbers of walleyes with a legitimate shot at the big walleye of a lifetime as well!
While I make a Rainy River run most springs, a change in regulations on Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border provides me a “closer to home” option. Because Big Stone is just over an hour away, it gives me ample opportunities for day trips. Those trips usually involve jig fishing too as the walleyes that roam the lake love the lake’s plentiful shallow rocks where they are very susceptible to small jigs/minnows pitched to them.
Opening day “spottails”
Spottail shiner minnows are a preferred forage of walleyes, particularly when these baitfish are shallow and spawning during spring. It just so happens that the traditional Minnesota “walleye opener” often coincides with the spring spottail run. Jigs tipped with spottails produce lots of Minnesota opener walleyes every year.
For me, however, I prefer slowly trolling while longlining these minnows on slip-sinker livebait rigs a good distance behind the boat. Many good “spottail lakes” have clear water and spooky walleyes and so a minnow swimming along naturally away from the boat is often too much for even a wary walleye to resist. This particular method, in fact, put a limit of eating-sized walleyes in my boat last year on the Minnesota opener while anglers around us struggled while fishing baits closer to their boats.
One tip that makes this technique more successful is the use of an appropriate rod. I prefer a long spinning rod of 7 ½ feet in length with medium light power and a fast action tip. This style rod helps me feel light bites and “feed” line to light biting fish, but it also has the length needed to take up slack line and get a solid hookset on a walleye on a long line. The Lew’s Speed Stick 7’6” live bait walleye spinning rod is designed specifically for this style fishing and does a great job. Not only that, but the Speed Sticks are very affordable and there are a couple other spinning models that work great for my early season jig fishing described above too.
Bouncers on structure
When spring morphs into summer, it’s time for me to put away the spinning gear and break out the bottom bouncers. Many lakes that I fish in the Alexandria area of Minnesota have walleye structure like sunken humps, islands, and underwater points that hold fish in 15-30 feet of water during June.
These fish offer classic structure fishing options involving jigs and slip-sinker live bait rigs like we used during spring. For me, however, a switch to baitcasting gear and heavy bottom bouncers, plain snells, and leeches or nightcrawlers as baits become the norm. These rigs are pulled quickly through schools of walleyes marked on structure to pick off active fish. Plus, the speed and erratic action a bottom bouncer provides are great at triggering some reluctant fish into biting as well. This method has been so effective, in fact, that I start 90% of my guiding days during summer using it. One more thing, the Speed Stick series has a 7 foot bottom bouncer rod that is the best I have found for this style fishing as well.
There you have them; one angler’s walleye wishes for the coming year. Now if it can just hurry up and warm up, so the ice starts to melt ...
As always, enjoy your time on the water, and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure.
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com for more “fishy” stuff.