It was great to be back in a boat, despite the chilly weather. There was some rain, some snow and a walleye bite that was slow on most lakes.
There were lots of vehicles with trailers parked in overflow parking on most of the walleye lakes. Upper Red Lake was predictably one of the busiest and most productive lakes.
One question on a lot of people's minds: what percent of the bait stores and gas stations had at least one person with the active virus go through their store on the opener? Most estimates were close to 100%.
Anglers on Upper Red Lake were catching a lot of walleyes along the shoreline break, with a high percentage of walleyes longer than 17 inches. The limit is four walleyes, with one walleye allowed longer than 17 inches. Many anglers got their “over” pretty quick, but filling out a limit with “unders” was more of a challenge.
Anglers had to deal with a cold front and cold water temperatures on the opener. Most walleyes were spawned out and anglers had to slow down their presentation to catch fish and watch their electronics for areas holding fish.
Jigs and minnows were the bait of choice, with spottail shiners tough to find. Most walleyes were caught on jigs and fatheads or jigs and rainbow chubs (Redbelly Dace).
It helped get more bites using a light line (four or six pound test) and light jigs (1/16 or 1/8 ounce) with a decent size fathead minnow. It worked well to drag it slowly with little shakes of the rod tip.
The temperature is supposed to get a little warmer this weekend, with a chance of rain a few times during the week.
Walleyes should bite better as the water warms. Spottail shiners will get easier to find in the bait stores and most lakes will be busiest on the weekends and less busy during the week.
Walleyes are feeding along the shoreline break in areas with hard bottom. The cool weather has stunted new weed growth, so areas with rocks, gravel or any other type of cover is usually the key for walleyes.
Chara is one type of vegetation that doesn’t turn brown during the winter. Chara doesn’t have roots, but it collects together in mats on the bottom, because the rigid structure of the plant sticks together like Velcro.
Some sand flats are covered with chara, which provides good cover for insects, crayfish and minnows. Chara is one of the first types of vegetation to hold fish, with perch, walleyes and northern pike feeding over the chara flats looking for a mixture of prey.
Leech Lake was slow for most anglers on the opener. The best areas for walleyes early in the season are Sucker Bay, Portage Bay, Steamboat Bay and Boy Bay.
All the mentioned bays have spawning rivers connected to them, so walleyes feed their way back out of the bays, heading for the main lake during the summer. Walleyes are often concentrated around rock points in the bays.
Lake Winnibigoshish was giving up some large walleyes and also some of the strong age class of smaller walleyes that should be large enough for anglers to keep at some point this summer. A good age class of walleyes can keep anglers happy for several years until they grow into the protected slot.
Cass Lake is big, clear and cold. There were anglers catching walleyes and perch in most of the connecting lakes including Kitchi, Pike’s Bay, Andrusia and Wolf Lake. Most anglers fishing on the Cass Lake chain on opening weekend chose to fish Andrusia or Kitchi.
Walleyes spawn in several rivers and streams flowing into the Cass Lake chain. There are several strong spawning runs, with many walleyes feeding their way back to Cass Lake for the summer.
Bemidji typically gets better for walleyes later in the spring. Lake Irving warms faster than Lake Bemidji, so it is often better for walleyes early in the season.