Late spring may affect the walleye bite
Park Rapids area bait shop owners and fishing guides give advice leading up to the Minnesota walleye fishing opener on Saturday, May 13.
Local fishing guides and bait shop owners have advice for anglers fishing the walleye-northern pike opener Saturday, May 13.
“We definitely have a later ice-out than what most anglers would consider normal,” said Isaiah Hahn with You Bet! Fishing Guide Services. “It seems like we haven't had much of a spring. So that will definitely play a role in a couple of factors.”
Hahn advised knowing the areas where walleye spawn, starting in shallow water – maybe 3-4 feet deep – and moving deeper until you find active fish; using the lightest jig you can get away with, depending on the wind and waves; and getting your bait shopping done early due to this year’s minnow shortages as well as delays in trapping what minnows there are, due again to the late ice-out.
“Get to that bait shop early and find your bait because I’m sure it will go pretty quick,” he said.
Jeremy Anderson with Jones’s Guide Service, also voiced concern about the minnow supply, noting that the jig-and-minnow rig is the most popular way to catch fish at this time of year.
“It’s just a fun way to fish,” he said. “You feel that bite. You might have to let them have it for just a second or two, and then you can set the hook.”
A minnow shortage may make this tougher, he said, depending on the activity level of the fish. “If they’re not super active, that’s when minnows really come in handy,” said Anderson. “If they’re really active, there’s so many different soft plastics on the market.”
For anglers who can’t get minnows, he advised using either soft plastic lures or lipped crankbaits – hard lures, often made of wood, that vibrate as you cast them or troll them.
“Maybe even try to find some leeches,” Anderson added. “Or maybe people will get excited and try to trap their own minnows.”
Greg May, co-owner of Northern Bait Co., and Will Wicks with Delaney’s Outdoors both confirmed that the minnow shortage is a real issue.
“There’s a huge bait shortage, just due to weather, supply, new laws that affect our trapping,” said Wicks. “It’s a combination of everything.”
“A lot of the ponds froze out,” said May. “Not everything is dead, but we lost a lot of minnows.”
He said they’ll have rainbow minnows for sure, and they’re currently trapping golden shiners.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said.
Wicks added that minnows will continue to be hard to get all summer, but again recommended trying soft plastics. “You don’t have to use live bait to catch walleyes in this area,” he said.
Nevertheless, Wicks said, “It should be a strong opener. Bite should be pretty good. Look for shallow flats, close to rivers.”
Fish getting up to speed
Anderson said that despite the late spring, expects the spawn to be done in most lakes and the walleye season “close to on-track” by the opener.
“A lot closer than I thought we would be, as far as what the fish will be doing,” he said. “I know they’re taking eggs from walleyes right now. The northern pike spawn under the ice most of the time, if the ice isn’t off the lakes, so they should be ready to bite.
“So, a lot of the fish should be pretty close to doing, if they aren’t already doing, what they would normally be doing this time of year – up shallow, feeding on minnows, finding the warmer water, finding those current areas, and just up feeding – because coming off the spawn and off the cold-water season, they’re looking to find as much bait as they can.”
Look beyond walleye
“Walleye is king,” Hahn said. “That being said, don’t be afraid to look for some other fish species, like your panfish species – bluegills, crappies – because that bit could be really, really good with this late season. They’re going to be coming up shallow, and we look like we have a pretty decent stretch of nice, warmer weather coming up.
“So, they might be fairly easy to find and easy to target. Get your bobbers out and some live baits with a jig, and look for those shallow, mud areas, specifically on the north or northwest side of the lake. Those are the areas that are going to warm up the quickest.”
Hahn added that good panfish populations may also be found in backwater bays.
The guides also remind anglers that it is legal to target largemouth and smallmouth bass May 13-26, but only on a catch-and-release basis. The true bass opener is May 27, with the muskie season opening June 3.
“Always prepare,” Anderson urged. “Make sure you have the right clothing for the weather. The water temperatures aren't going to be super warm. Even if it feels warm on land, it's a lot colder on the lake, especially if there's a breeze coming off that really cold water.
“Of course, watch the weather for wind. Wind can help fishing, blowing into a certain shoreline or area sometimes, but then if it's going to rain, you don't want to be out there in inclement weather, like lightning.”
Anderson also recommended checking your lines to make sure they’re in good condition, or using new line to avoid tangles and breaks. “If you don't have good line, you're going to break fish off or miss the few bites you get,” he said. “Look through your lures and make sure you have the right jig heads and other fishing lures that you're going to want to use.”
He also suggested lubricating reels and lines, making sure your boat plug is in before you back it into the lake, and bringing a landing net “in case you get the big lunkers.”
“It's highly encouraged to wear your life jacket,” he added, “even if you think you're a great swimmer, because that cold water can really affect, even kill people if they fall in. Even the best, youngest swimmers.”
Know the rules
- To fish in Minnesota, anglers 16 years or older are required to buy a Minnesota fishing license.
- A trout stamp is required to fish in designated trout water or harvest trout from any water.
- New gar limits are in effect this year, with a possession limit of 10 gar.
- State fishing regulations, including new rules for 2023, can be found at mndnr.gov/fishing.
- Minnesota law requires one life jacket for everyone on the boat, and all children under age 10 are required to wear a life jacket.
Minnesota fishing facts
- The May 13 opener is the start of fishing for walleye, northern pike, bass and trout in Minnesota’s inland lakes. (Bass are open for catch-and-release only until May 27.)
- Sunfish, crappie and channel catfish are in season year-round. Muskie season opens June 3.
- Minnesota has about 4,500 fishing lakes as well as more than 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams, including 3,800 trout streams.
- There are about 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota.
- Fishing supports $4.4 billion in economic output, including tourism, sales of boats and fishing gear and 28,000 jobs, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
- Visit mndnr.gov/licensedollarsatwork to learn how the DNR spends fishing license dollars.
Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.