Ready or not, the walleye opener has arrived
The long wait is over. Walleye season opens 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The season also opens for northern pike and stream trout living in lakes.
Bemidji is a destination point for walleye fishermen so anglers from all over Minnesota and other parts of the country are about to begin their annual pilgrimages to the lakes in the Bemidji area.
The local bait shops are already filled with anglers buying their 2011 Minnesota fishing licenses and anything else they can find that might help them catch more walleyes on the opener.
Most bait shops were scrambling this week to fill the shelves with fishing tackle and fill their tanks with enough shiners and other minnows to supply the huge demands of optimistic anglers heading to the lakes this weekend, hoping to catch their limits of walleyes.
The most popular presentation on the opener is a jig and minnow. Walleye anglers usually prefer spot-tail shiners if they can get them, with large fatheads or rainbow chubs the back-up minnows. Plastics, leeches and night crawlers will also catch their share of walleyes this weekend.
Where the walleyes will be located on the opener depends on a number of factors. Each lake has different types of structures available to walleyes but most walleyes will choose shoreline structure early in the season if it's available to them.
The breakline at the edge of a large shoreline flat and major shoreline points are two examples of areas that might attract walleyes on opening weekend.
Walleyes in smaller lakes with limited shoreline habitat may have walleyes heading right for the mid-lake structure if that is the best walleye habitat in the lake.
Migrating post-spawn walleyes returning to their home lakes usually blow past areas with few feeding opportunities and linger longer in the areas with the most food.
Male walleyes usually make up the bulk of the catch early in the season. Male walleyes recover much faster than female walleyes after the spawn so males resume normal feeding patterns sooner than females.
Male walleyes usually feed their way back to their home lake, while female walleyes are more likely to head directly back to their home lake where they will rest in deep water until they recover from the spawn.
It usually takes female walleyes more than a week to recover from the spawn. When the female walleyes do recover, they usually show up in shallow water hungry and ready to feed.
Many anglers like to fish on a chain of lakes on the opener so they can fish one of the smaller, warmer lakes trying to catch the migrating walleyes on their way back to their home lake.
Some lakes may have several spawning runs in the spring. Walleyes from Cass Lake may go up the Mississippi River through Andrusia and Wolf Lake or they may head into Big Lake. Another spawning run out of Cass Lake goes up the Turtle River, with walleyes traveling through Pug Hole, Kitchi and Rice Lake. There are also walleyes in Pike Bay that have their own spawning runs.
Leech Lake has multiple spawning runs into most of the large shallow bays. There can be walleyes migrating back into Sucker Bay, Portage Bay, Boy Bay, Steamboat Bay and Kabekona Bay on the opener in Leech Lake.
Winnibigoshish has spawning runs up the Mississippi River to Knutson Dam and also into the Third River Flowage and the Cutfoot Sioux. There can also be spawning walleyes going into Sugar Lake in high water years.
There are also dozens of small to medium sized lakes in the Bemidji area with good walleye populations, if anglers want to get away from the crowds. There were also crappies moving into the shallows in many lakes this past week, which gives anglers another option if walleye fishing is slow.
Please be patient on the opener and lend a hand if you see someone having problems launching or landing their boats. Many anglers only fish a couple of times a season, so many of the anglers will already be gone by Sunday morning.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.