ABOUT OUTDOORS: Tips to fool spring walleyes
Spring is a coveted time for walleye anglers. Each body of water has diverse makeups, challenging even the best fisherman.
"Early-season walleyes can mean different things in diverse parts of Minnesota," says Joel Nelson, a veteran Minnesota walleye angler.
Weather is unpredictable. I have had snowy openers and warm, sunny junkets on others. One Minnesota opener, on Island Lake, it snowed, and to my surprise, I woke up to a boat full of snow.
Minnesota sells 1.4 million licenses a year, and of that number approximately 1 million pursue walleyes. Overall, our walleye populations are in good shape. Not all lakes can be everything to everybody, whether its numbers or size. Walleye enthusiasts willing to move about the region I am convinced will find the walleye fishing experience they are looking for.
• Water temperature. Below 50 degrees, it is essential to think live bait and fish slowly. Water temperatures cool at night. If the sun is out at daybreak, expect the walleye action to ramp up mid-morning through the afternoon. Above 50-degree water temps, expect the walleyes to be eager to chase, starting at the opening bell.
• Location. Spring walleye locations are shallow. Add flowing water — like an incoming creek or stream, scattered rock and emerging weed growth — and walleyes always find that appealing. Concentrate on windswept shorelines first, then don't overlook deep water if it's calm, sunny and still.
Park Rapids areas are shallow, featureless, highly fertile waters. They warm quickly and are always first places to look for early-season walleyes. First season walleyes prowl flowing water areas, scrounging for food and are easily reached casting from shore with a good pair of hip boots or waders.
• Keep casting. Early-season water is clear, and the walleyes are spooky. Catch them by casting. Most anglers will agree to hover or anchor, cast a jig tipped with a minnow or leech. Shiners and rainbow chubs, when available, tipped on a 3/16-oz., white jig head is always my first choice. Pencil-length crankbaits or plugs pitched a distance and brought back slowly are another right choice. Add a soft, plastic body to a lead head jig. The plastic body complements a jig tipped with a minnow. Retrieve it fast or slow. Let the fish tell you what they want. Bucktail hair jigs have always been a favorite of mine. They are often overlooked by so many of today's walleye enthusiasts. Bucktail jigs, perfect for long casts, should be retrieved slowly and twitched effectively through emerging weed growth.
• Drift. Sandy, shallow water areas bathed in the sun are magnets for spawning shiner minnows and feeding walleyes. Shut the motor off, drift broadside. Let the wind push the boat. Tie on the end of the line a 1/8-oz. to 3/16-oz. jig tipped with a shiner hooked through the back of the tail. Let out enough fishing line to get the offering 50 to 75 feet away from the boat.
• Color. It can make the difference. My choice, if only for confidence, in clear water are bright colors, white, chartreuse, purple and blue. In off-color water caused by wind or algae blooms, use two-tone colored jigs, white-red, chartreuse-red. In dark, murky water, try black, gray and brown.
• My plan. Covering wind-swept, shallow, rocky-sand mixed shorelines, I'll be zeroing on current areas and creek inlets, making long casts with 1/8-oz. to 3/16-oz. jigs tipped with a shiner or rainbow minnow. My second choice is Hurling, pencil-length, silver, shallow-running crankbaits into just a few inches of water depth along rock-rimmed shorelines.
Be optimistic about the 2019 Minnesota Opener. Anglers with a positive attitude and a basic common-sense approach will land enough fish to enjoy a fish fry or two.