FISH SAVVY: Keys to finding fish in May

Springtime is a great opportunity to find crappie, sunfish and walleye, according to local fishing guide Isaiah Hahn

Common perch
Elena -

May is one of my favorite months of the entire year to fish.

First, there is the sense of the changing of the seasons from ice to open water. This changing of the guard for Mother Nature usually happens well before the month of May, but it seems official with all the hype and the anticipation that comes with the Minnesota fishing opener.

Even for me, as an adult angler and fishing guide who gets to spend hundreds of hours on the water each season, it is still like Christmas morning. The opener is like a holiday that has so much rich tradition and holds so many memories for me and my entire family, as I am sure it does for many other anglers throughout the state.

Besides the rich tradition, anticipation and child-like feel of Christmas morning, the month of May offers some of the best fishing of the year for a variety of fish species. Crappies and sunfish are usually in the middle of the spawning rituals. They can be found in very shallow water and are often fairly easy to target this time of year.

Shallow backwater bays with sheltered cover typically provide the best locations for springtime crappie and sunfish locations. Specifically, shallow soft-mud bottom areas will hold the warmest water temperatures in the spring and these locations are where anglers are going to want to start their search.


Water temperatures are key to focus on this time of year. Any time water temperatures stabilize and maintain a consistent 50 degrees, you can expect to find crappies and sunfish roaming the shallows in good numbers.

Keep it simple and keep it fun when it comes to lure choice and presentation while targeting panfish this time of year. Simply using a small 1/32-ounce plan jig or hair-jig tipped with your preferred live bait (wax worm or small piece of nightcrawler) above a float will get the job done.

Do not be afraid to experiment with tipping your panfish jigs with plastics instead of live bait. There are a ton of color choices, sizes, profiles, specific actions and scents when it comes to panfish plastics on the market today. Believe it or not, these life-like plastics can often outperform live bait.

The springtime, and specifically the month of May, is a great time of year to bring young kids or people of any age without much fishing experience out on the lake to enjoy one of the best panfish bites of the year.

The walleye is king for most Minnesota anglers. The key to finding walleyes in the month of May is knowing or having an idea of their spawning locations. These locations can vary from lake to lake, but overall tend to be on some form of shallow water gravel and/or rock rubble. Walleyes will usually spawn on main lake shorelines or in rivers or creeks connected to lakes. Start deeper, on the nearest shoreline break, and continue to move shallow (sometimes as shallow as three feet of water) until you find active walleyes.

The most popular presentation for early season walleyes is simply a jig and a minnow and for good reason – it works. There are a ton of great walleye jigs on the market and specific jig weight to use may vary from 1/16 to 3/8 ounce, depending on the depth and the mood of the fish.

As far as bait, shiner minnows are the ticket this time of year. However, due to high demand shiner minnows can often be hard to find. When targeting early season walleyes, fathead or rainbow minnows will often get the job done as well.

Often overlooked walleye presentations in the month of May are using plastics (like ribbon tales and boot tail swimbaits), hair jigs, jerkbaits and crankbaits. Do not be afraid to think outside the box and experiment with lure choice when it comes to fishing for springtime walleyes. Have a few lure choices tied up because one day a jig and minnow presentation may be the key and the next, a swimbait may be the ticket to putting more fish in the boat.


Finally, both smallmouth and largemouth bass can also be an absolute blast to target this time of year and are usually still in the middle of their spawning rituals. It is critical for anglers to treat these pre-spawn and spawning bass with care, so they are able to reproduce.

Please practice catch and release whenever you can for any fish species. Keep a few nice smaller eaters of your favorite fish species for the frying pan, and make sure to release those adult fish to spawn, reproduce, and fight another day for the next angler to enjoy.

Good luck out on the water and I want to wish everyone a great and safe fishing season!

Important dates to remember

Walleye and northern pike opener: Saturday, May 15

Smallmouth and largemouth bass catch and release only: May 15-28

Smallmouth and largemouth bass catch opener: Saturday, May 29

Muskellunge opener: Saturday, June 5


Isaiah Hahn operates You Bet Fishing Guide Service in Park Rapids.

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