Minnesota Opening Day Walleye Fishing

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An 'Eye Opener
by Cory Schmidt

By Cory Schmidt Walleye fishing in the Brainerd Lakes area is an institution. And "walleye opener" is a big deal, actually, it's a huge deal- come mid-May in Cass and Crow Wing Counties, there's just nothing bigger. Funerals and weddings can wait. And if your wife's planning a springtime furlough to the Bahamas, well, she just may end up going alone if it falls on the second weekend in May.

Really, it's pretty easy to get excited about opener on lakes like Gull, Pelican, North Long, Edward, Whitefish and Mille Lacs; at least if you're one like me, who's moved by nostalgia in fishing. You start saying things like, "This is the exact spot where thirty years ago, Al Lindner caught his biggest ever 13-pound walleye." Or "the lake where Harry Van Doren first decided to reverse his engine for better boat control while Lindy rigging." And so much more fishing history, born here.

You get to pondering things like that, plus just plain looking at open water again, and it just seems to pump excitement into anglers like us; gets us to thinking about new intriguing ways to catch fish. Not only that, but on these lakes, you're still just as likely to run into good ol' boys like Lindner and Roach as your next-door neighbor. And the real kicker is, a lot of folks believe the fishing is better now than ever . . .

For my part, which spans a mere 18 openers in the region, there's no better way to spend this special time than in a pair of chest waders at night. Quietly slogging along tight to shore near current areas, bats circling a dancing rod tip, you feel an easy sort of sublime-- no boats, and no lights but the stars and the moon.

But there are certainly walleyes-- come dark, plenty of them, brought to the beach with eyes like diamonds. Today, shorecasting in waders has become a cult classic, a pattern obscured by the "more fish faster" trend. Which is fine, because the only "right" way to fish is the way that's fun for you.

One thing for sure, though-the old shorecasters had it right in early season, for they chose to fish near current areas. Whether produced by a creek inlet, a neck-down area separating a point from an island or simply a narrow funnel between opposing basins, current plays a prominent role in attracting early season walleyes.

But current's not just important for the fact that it draws spawning walleyes. Some quality current areas may actually hold fish all season long. Current attracts baitfish, and baitfish remains the singular element that all great walleye spots share in common. And if you're not sure whether a given spot holds baitfish, shine a spotlight in the water at night. Look in 1 to 5 feet of water. If you spot shimmering pods of minnows that look something like little swimming shards of glass, strongly consider the area for fishing. You may not see the walleyes, but you can bet they're nearby, poised to eat.

So I suppose, when opener arrives, you can make it as complicated or as simple an affair as you want. Maybe you'll want to get out there and just speed all around the lake, hopping from spot to spot, scratching a fish here and another there. Choose a big lake and maybe plan on joining a crowd. On Gull Lake, try Polks Flat, Grassy Point and Booming Out Bay. Similarly, Pelican Lake offers many quality shallow water areas on its north end. On the Whitefish Chain, you'll certainly want to head on over to the Pine River inlet. And if you go to Mille Lacs, the north end sand flats almost always produce in years of early springs. Though larger fish will be found on shallow rock and boulder points on the west and east sides of the big lake.

Gull, Pelican, Whitefish, Edward, Round and Mille Lacs-classic Lakes Area "walleye opener" waters. Plenty of room to zoom, and millions of walleyes to match. Or, maybe, like me, you're into contemplative simplicity and just plain big fish. To paraphrase the late, great Teddy Roosevelt (though I doubt he had fishing in mind at the time): It's "walk lightly and carry a big stick" time.

Grab a couple favorite minnow plugs, pull on a pair of waders and find a good current area. Ok, so it might not be real magic, but nonetheless, wading the dark shallows does seem to bring you to a deeper intimacy with the aquatic environment. Water pulls and weighs on your legs until you learn to "go with the flow" with fishing, as it were. Cast and retrieve, and cast and retrieve . . . The routine and your surroundings become almost hypnotic, until all at once, it happens. And you're again staring down into the net, awestricken, at another tremendous creature of the night.

Chances are, come opening night, shorecasters like me will be on the same lake as you, but you'll probably never know we're there. Though if you look and listen real close, you might just think you've seen a ghost.

River Walleye Tackle

The Tackle Box

Nagels Live Bait
(507) 334-8341
2030 NW 7th St

Faribault Bait & Tackle
1935 NW 7th St

Shieldsville Bait & Tackle
(507) 334-2631
15090 Shieldsville
FARIBAULT MN 55021-7491

River Walleye Tackle

The Tackle Box

Nagels Live Bait

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