Success on opening day

An angler with a chunky walleye that ate a jig and minnow!

Walleye fishing season is right around the corner!  If you are like me, you have been waiting for this day since putting the boat away last fall.  With the season just days away, having a good game plan for “the opener” and the weeks ahead can mean the difference between spring fishing success and spring fishing frustration!

Being on the right lake is a key component to early season walleye fishing success.  That means being on a lake with good walleye numbers and one with relatively warm water temperatures is usually key.   Small, shallow lakes usually warm quickly in the spring.  I’ve started several seasons on small lakes that produced good walleye catches the previous winter and found good opening day success.   In fact, relying on recent fishing history, whether it be from the previous fall or winter, has successfully helped me choose an opener lake several times.

Small, shallow lakes often are a good opening day starting point.  However, this season’s early ice out on most lakes also means that some of the larger,  more well-known walleye waters may produce on the opener and beyond too. 

Regardless the lake chosen, I often start my search along the lake’s first drop-off where a large shoreline flat dumps into deeper water.  Large flats often serve as smorgasbords of various baitfish that hungry early season walleyes key in on.   Specifically, I look for differences along that edge and flat, maybe small turns or points on the dropoff, areas where rock or harder bottom are present, or areas with emerging weeds as these spots often congregate baitfish drawing in walleyes. 

A great way to find those irregularities and fish is to cruise along the flat’s edge and use sonar to “look”  on the dropoff and up on the flat.  I use my Helix fish finder while cruising using the unit’s CHIRP sonar to look for fish along the dropoff, while simultaneously relying on its MEGA Side Imaging to identify fish and/or fish-holding structure like weeds or rocks up on the flat.  

Once likely fishing spots are identified, I slow up and start fishing using a classic light jig and minnow combination.  I’ll hold the boat near the identified spot and pitch and slowly work a 1/8-ounce jig and minnow, either a spottail shiner or fathead, back to the boat.  I’ll make several pitches to a potential spot before resuming “search” mode and looking for the next likely area. 

Often this run and gun approach yields a nice catch of eater walleyes by day’s end.  Sometimes, however, particularly under cold front weather conditions, the fish have a tendency to slide deeper down the dropoff edges and become lethargic.  When that happens, I’ve been able to save the day at times by working lively shiner minnows fished on traditional slip-sinker rigs very slowly through these deeper fish marked on sonar.

Whether slowly fishing slip-sinker rigs for lethargic fish or jigs and minnows for those more active, the opening day goal for most anglers is to put several walleyes in the live well for an upcoming fish fry.  The tips just offered are designed to help anglers do just that.  Good luck on the opener and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!


Mike Frisch hosts the popular “Fishing the Midwest” TV series.  Follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more “fishy” information!

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