REGIONAL— Minnesota’s 2019 walleye opener is set for this Saturday and area guides are optimistic that the conditions favor a successful one. “I think we’ll have a pretty active bite,” said …
REGIONAL— Minnesota’s 2019 walleye opener is set for this Saturday and area guides are optimistic that the conditions favor a successful one. “I think we’ll have a pretty active bite,” said longtime Lake Vermilion walleye guide Cliff Wagenbach. “The females should be done spawning so we should see a few more of those in the catch.”
That’s a contrast to last year, when lake ice that lingered right up until opener meant a later-than-usual spawn. This year, most area lakes cleared of ice within a day or two of their long-term average. Walleyes congregate in rivers, streams, and shallow bays for their annual spawn and tend to feed only lightly during that period. Once they’ve completed spawning, the walleye typically leave those areas and begin to feed aggressively— offering one of the most productive periods of the year for anglers.
Yet, as Ely-area guide Rob Nelson points out, that assumes that anglers can find the fish, since they likely won’t be clustered in their spawning grounds any more. “Some will still be in the current, but they’ll likely be more scattered,” said Nelson. “That means we’ll have to go look for them.”
Nelson said he’s likely to work the usual early-season current in the morning, in hopes of picking up the stragglers from the spawn, before heading out into the main basin to search for the dispersing fish.
Despite the average ice-outs this year, the continued cool and cloudy weather in recent weeks has left water temperatures still on the cold side—in the mid-forty degree range as of Monday. Such chilly conditions should prompt walleyes to continue to linger in shallower bays, where water temperatures warm the fastest.
“I think there should be a pretty hot Pike Bay bite,” said Wagenbach. “It should be packed with boats.”
Vermilion guide Doug Knoer, of Cook, agrees. “Target those shallow, warmest areas first,” he said. “Look for entrances to shallow bays, then work your bait really slow.”
That’s advice that a lot of guides will offer in the early season, since the cool water temperatures keep the walleye somewhat sluggish. Knoer suggested anglers could even try anchoring in a likely spot. From there, just cast and try a slow return, dragging your bait across the bottom.
This time of year, that generally starts with a jig and a minnow. “Probably 80-percent of the fishermen out there will be using jigs and minnows,” said Wagenbach. He’ll be one of them, at least to start, although he’s quick to change his approach if necessary. If jigs aren’t the hot ticket, he’ll switch first to a Lindy rig, again baited with a minnow, which can often be more effective.
If those don’t work, try deploying crankbaits, like rapalas, in shallow bays. “That often works well, especially in the early morning and evenings,” said Wagenbach. While Wagenbach encourages anglers to try the shallows, he won’t be found there himself. Instead, he’ll be working his usual deep-water haunts in Vermilion’s Big Bay, where he’ll be going after the male walleyes that can frequently be found in anywhere from 25-40 feet of water this time of year.