Walleye action is improving on most area lakes
Opening day of the walleye season was cold and windy and kept some anglers off the lakes, or at least shortened the amount of time they spent on the water. The weather has been more favorable since opening day with plenty of sun and milder temperatures.
The lakes are warming up fast, with surface water temperatures quickly rising into the mid-50s on most lakes. The most accurate surface temperature readings are done in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm the upper layers of the water column.
The bulk of the catch early in the season has been male walleyes but a few of the larger female walleyes have begun to show up in the shallows.
The peak of the spring walleye fishing usually occurs close to Memorial Day Weekend so the next two weeks should provide some of the best walleye fishing of the season.
The sequence of events in the spring usually goes something like this: walleyes spawn in rivers; walleyes spawn in lakes; river spawning walleyes recover; lake spawning walleyes recover; walleyes feed heavily on spot-tail shiners in the shallows; most walleyes move to mid-lake structure in time for the insect hatches to begin.
Walleyes living in large lakes often act differently than walleyes living in smaller lakes. Walleyes in large lakes usually have more choices for structure and will almost exclusively be located on shoreline-connected structure until the shiners finish spawning.
Walleyes living in smaller lakes don't have nearly as many options as walleyes living in larger lakes. Walleyes in smaller lakes may go directly to mid-lake structure almost immediately in the spring because that is where the best structure and most food is located.
This is especially true in small lakes that do not have large spot-tail shiner populations, so they are forced to seek out other prey options which may not be located on shoreline structure.
Shiner minnows have been showing up in the shallows to spawn in larger numbers as water temperatures increase. Bait dealers had trouble meeting the demands of anglers wanting shiner minnows on opening weekend but the bait shops should have plenty of shiners on hand for anglers this weekend.
The hot bait has been a jig and shiner minnow for most anglers. There is very little weed growth in the lakes right now so rocks or chara have provided some of the only cover available to baitfish until the weed beds start to develop.
Anglers usually want to use as light a jig as they can and still be able to feel the bottom. A 1/8th-ounce jig on six-pound test line is usually a good combination for walleyes early in the season.
Clear line is usually best in clear water before the algae begin to bloom. Later in the season many anglers like to switch to green colored line to match the green tinted water.
Anglers fishing stained lakes with coffee colored water or turbid lakes with brown colored water can get by using heavier line and heavier jigs than anglers fishing in clear-water conditions.
Walleyes in some lakes will switch their preferences from jigs and minnows to leeches and night crawlers earlier in the season than walleyes in other lakes.
Anglers may want to try live-bait rigs with leeches, night crawlers or larger shiners to see how they produce when the walleyes begin to move into deeper water.
The best lakes for walleyes on opening weekend were Upper Red Lake and Winnibigoshish. Anglers were catching good numbers of walleyes in both lakes in five to nine feet of water.
There were also anglers catching walleyes in Portage, Sucker and Steamboat Bay of Leech Lake. Kitchi and Andrusia were the best lakes on the Cass Lake Chain and Plantagenet and Irving were also producing walleyes on opening weekend.
Some of the deeper lakes should be coming on this week, with walleyes in Bemidji, Cass and Pike Bay getting more active as water temperatures increase.
There has also been a good bite for crappies in the shallows in many lakes for anglers who want to fish for something other than walleyes.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.