Fishing opener is quickly approaching, and for many anglers that means a trip Up North to try their hand at catching walleye—the most sought-after fish in Minnesota. The walleye is known to be elusive and can sink even the most optimistic spirit. We caught up with local fishing guides Walleye Dan and Nate Berg from Nate Berg Fishing Guides to get early season tips on how to put fish in your livewell on opener weekend.
Nate Berg: So many times, when I am out on opener, I see people that are targeting walleyes fishing right on top of one another. My advice would be to move away from the pressure. Walleyes can be spooky during the early season because, for the most part, they are still in shallow water and weed cover is sparse. The more boats there are the more noise, so try to avoid high traffic areas. As for presentations, every year is different, but I bring an assortment of rods and lures to give myself a bunch of options. I will have rods set up for live bait, plastics, jerk baits and crank, which allow the fish to tell me what they want.
Walleye Dan: I think that we should be in good shape this year as far as the bite. The walleye have had ample time to spawn and should be looking to eat come opener! One of the keys to catching more walleye is to try to keep from spooking the school. The clearer the lake, the spookier the fish, and now that zebra mussels have taken hold in many of our lakes, the clarity is crazy! Night fishing can be extremely effective early in the season and trolling or casting shallow running baits is the most popular presentation—and it works. As for depth at night, focus on 2 to 7 feet of water. During daylight, the fish will spread out a little depending on where they are finding food.
Nate Berg: The later the ice out, generally the earlier the spawn and better the weed growth. This year should be pretty good fishing considering we will have at least 2 weeks of open water on most lakes to ensure the walleye spawn is over and we have some good weed cover. I personally like an earlier ice out because fish just seem to bite better all day with the extra cover rather than more of a nocturnal bite that seems to occur in late ice off years like last year.
Walleye Dan: If you’re searching for walleyes early in the season, I would seek shallow water and more specifically those areas near or in the moving water (rivers, inlets, outlets, and next down areas near bridges). To catch these fish, you can use a variety of techniques (jigs, minnows, live bait rigs, crank baits, soft plastic swim baits, and others). If you’re using minnows, try to find spot tail shiners or red tail chubs. Night crawlers can be good and so can leeches—if the water isn’t too cold. If the leech curls up and doesn’t want to swim, it’s too cold.
Nate Berg: No matter what lake you fish, fish shallow. If you think you are too shallow, guess again. Often on opening weekend and into the first couple weeks of the season, we are catching fish in 2 to 8 feet of water depending on the spot. There have been occasions where we picked up walleyes right off the shore line. With that said, I always target Gull Lake on opener with a group of friends just because it’s tradition. The second day, however, I likely will be on one of the smaller lakes that are amply stocked with walleye. The Brainerd Lakes Area is teaming with great walleye lakes that see very little pressure. If you have a lake that piques your interest, look it up on the Minnesota Lake Finder and check out the stocking reports as well as the creel surveys.
Walleye Dan: If you are struggling to catch a walleye, I would suggest you chase the panfish! This is prime crappie time and it’s fun to catch when you’re on them.
Nate Berg: On opener, if you don’t bring panfish gear, you are making a big mistake. We always target panfish at some point during the day and almost always we come away with a good meal of panfish. For crappies, we bring an assortment of gear. We will throw plastics and minnows. It wouldn’t surprise me that crappies may be spawning on some of the lakes. Bluegills will be in the new weed growth in the warmest parts of the lake. We generally throw night crawlers or wax worms on ice jigs suspended below a bobber.
Nate Berg: Remember to be courteous of other anglers, especially those fishing from shore. There are limited spots they can fish, so if possible, try to give them some space. The lakes get crowded and that is a good thing but just respect your fellow anglers and make it a good day.
Walleye Dan: Have fun, be safe, and keep the tip up!
Don’t forget to check Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ regulations as there were changes across the state for 2019. You can also find the rule book anywhere fishing licenses are sold.