Indicators point to great opener
The 2010 Minnesota fishing season opens at 12:01 a.m. Saturday for walleyes, northern pike, lake trout and stream trout living in lakes. The season is open continuously for crappies, sunfish and perch.
Bass season opens on May 29 and muskie season opens on June 5, to give both species more time to spawn before being pursued by anglers.
The outlook for the 2010 walleye opener couldn't be much better. Walleyes in most lakes have had several weeks to recover from the spawn, so both male and female walleyes should be ready to bite when the season opens.
Surface water temperatures in most lakes are currently in the low 50s, after peaking close to 60 degrees in late April. Water temperatures should warm quickly next week, with significantly warmer weather predicted in the extended forecast.
Anglers fishing the shallows for crappies, sunfish and perch have not been catching many accidental walleyes, which should be a good indicator of where most of the walleyes have been feeding.
If they aren't shallow, they have to be deeper. Walleyes are usually keying on shiners at this time of the year. Where the shiners are located, there should be walleyes following them like shepherds tending their flocks.
The cold weather cooled the water temperatures in the lakes, which moved most of the shiners back out of the shallows and delayed the progress of their spawn.
Everything in the lakes is ready to go crazy as soon as warmer, more stable weather arrives. Crappies, sunfish and bass are waiting to storm the shallows and do some last minute gorging before they spawn.
Spot-tail shiner minnows are holding in cover along shoreline structure, waiting to move into the shallows to spawn when water temperatures get near 60 degrees. Walleyes will follow the shiners until they finish spawning and move into open water.
Most of the shiners will spawn along shoreline structure, so most of the walleyes will stay on shoreline structure until the shiners are done spawning.
The cabbage weed beds are growing fast and offer some of the best shallow cover for shiners and other baitfish. Anglers should watch their electronics for emerging cabbage weeds and also for the presence of baitfish when they are looking for walleyes.
Anglers who find the areas with the best cover and the most food will usually find the fish. Walleyes are actively feeding right now, so they are never too far from their food.
The food chain switches during the open-water season, as different feeding opportunities present themselves.
Walleyes move around the lake in the summer like a circus traveling from town to town. They hop from one feeding bonanza to another, always trying to stay where they can get the most food for the least effort.
Anglers have to know what walleyes are looking for in order to be able to consistently find the fish. Anglers familiar with the patterns of walleyes learn to anticipate the fish's next move.
After the shiner minnows spawn the next big feeding opportunity for the walleyes is located in deep water where the mayflies will hatch.
When the mayflies are hatching out of the mud basin, much of the food chain shifts to deep water where the smaller fish feed on the insects and the larger fish eat the smaller fish.
Anglers may have to change their normal strategy on the opener this year to catch fish. The post-spawn walleye migrations should be almost done, so anglers will have to expand their search beyond the typical early-spring locations.
The best plan for anglers fishing walleyes on the opener would be to start with a jig and shiner minnow in 6 to 10 feet of water and go deeper or shallower from there, as the conditions dictate.
Don't hesitate to try live-bait rigs with leeches or night crawlers if the jig bite is slow. Watch your electronics for baitfish and emerging weeds and don't pass up schools of crappies or perch if you find them while searching for walleyes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.