The long wait for the walleye opener is almost over, with the season opening tonight at 12:01 a.m. The season also opens at midnight for sauger, northern pike and stream trout living in lakes.
Surface water temperatures in most of the lakes in the Bemidji area are in the low to mid 50s, which is a little warmer than usual for the opener.
The warmer water should help improve the walleye bite on most lakes, with water temperatures more like the second week of the season in most years.
The daily weather conditions have an impact on the fishing each day so if the weather cooperates, the walleyes should be biting when the season opens.
Walleyes in larger lakes like Bemidji, Cass, Leech, Lake of the Woods, Upper Red and Winnibigoshish should be using shoreline connected structure in most situations.
Any shallow areas with emerging cabbage weeds or hard bottomed areas with some rock are potential feeding areas for walleyes early in the season.
The spawn takes its toll on the walleyes, especially the female fish that can expel a good portion of their body weight when they release their eggs. The spawn has much less impact on the male walleyes so they will be the first fish to resume normal feeding patterns after they spawn.
Once the walleyes recover, they begin to search for a plentiful food source so they can put on the feed bag and add some much needed nutrition to help them regain their strength.
Spot-tail shiners and smaller perch are two common food sources for walleyes in many of the lakes in the Bemidji area.
The shiners will be moving shallow to get ready to spawn about the same time the female walleyes are recovered from the spawn and looking for something to eat. There are also juvenile perch in the shallows, providing walleyes with another option for food.
Most walleyes will be feeding along shoreline structure in the larger lakes because that is where most of the food is located. Walleyes in smaller lakes may go right to mid-lake structure if that is where the most suitable feeding areas are located.
Walleyes in most of the larger lakes show a preference for shiners while walleyes in many of the smaller lakes don't have as many shiners to feed on. As a result they are less fussy about what type of minnows they want to eat. Leeches and night crawlers could also be more of a factor on the opener because of the warmer water.
A good combination on the opener will be a 1/16-ounce jig with a decent size hook fished on five or six-pound test line. Anglers may need to go as heavy as 1/8-ounce jigs when the weather is windy.
Walleye anglers learn early that it is a good idea to bring a variety of baits in the boat. Walleyes are notoriously fussy so anglers may need to have several presentations ready in case their first option doesn't work.
Most bait stores don't grade their shiner minnows so anglers usually get a mixture of sizes when they buy minnows. The smaller shiners are ideal for jig fishing while the larger shiners may be better suited for a live-bait rig.
Casting verses trolling or drifting is another decision anglers will need to make. Anglers can make a drift from deep to shallow or shallow to deep. Anglers can also troll along a breakline at a specific depth or they can hold the boat at one depth and cast shallower or deeper.
Slip-bobber rigs can also be a good presentation for shallow walleyes. If the bottom is very rocky with lots of snags or very weedy and difficult to make too much contact with the bottom, a slip-bobber rig can be just the ticket to keep the bait in the right zone but off the bottom.
The opener is like a holiday for most people with fresh walleye fillets on the menu for Saturday night. Many anglers only fish a few days a season so please be patient and tolerant of other anglers so everyone can have a fun and safe opener.
PAUL A. NELSON runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org