Fishing begins anew here Saturday in the Walleye Capital of the World. Yet you, a citizen of our fair state, find yourself utterly clueless how to catch a representative specimen of this delectable finned species.
But consider your problem solved, your embarrassment assuaged and your kids finally credentialed to rebuff the cruel needling of their school’s most feared gang, the Walleye Bullies.
Instead, prepare to fist-pump your way through Minnesota’s first day of angling.
For hereafter are 10 walleye fishing secrets that for generations have been hidden from public view in a hermetically sealed bait bucket at the bottom of Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake, Minnesota’s deepest waterway at 450 feet.
Follow these, and you, too, can become one of the state’s more than 1 million licensed braggarts, otherwise known as anglers.
1. Fish where walleyes swim. This seems simple. But it’s half the battle. The greater the number of walleyes in a lake, the greater your chances of catching them — most other factors being equal, such as lake size and bottom structure.
Fortunately, the Department of Natural Resources has a website to help, www.mndnr.gov/lakefind/index.html. Just punch in the name of a lake you’re curious about, and instantly its latest species-specific fish survey results and stocking reports appear. Compare these to long-term averages for the lake, as well as to survey averages for similar lakes.
But a caveat. Not all lakes “survey’’ with similar accuracy. So some lakes that don’t appear to be flush with walleyes, according to their surveys, might indeed be flush with them. That said, lakes showing gill-net catches of eight or more walleyes per set are worth a try.
Even better, for lakes closer to the Twin Cities, check out this DNR website, www.mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries/westmetro/catchrates.html. It shows walleye (and northern pike, crappie and bluegill) survey catch rates for lakes in Hennepin, Carver and Wright counties.
2. Know where walleyes hang out, by season. Generally speaking, this weekend, think shallow. In one lake that might mean 12 to 18 feet of water. In others, 6 to 8 feet. Both ranges will grow shallower in evening, nighttime and early morning. In fact, some of the best early season walleye fishing can be at night off docks and from shore.
Additionally, if possible this weekend, fish areas with current, especially river mouths. Post-spawn walleyes can be found here. Also, rocky shorelines can be good, and windward shores are better than leeward. And remember: Walleyes school. Where one is caught, more often lurk.
3. Bait: Buy leeches as backups this weekend, or even night crawlers. But insist on minnows. Shiners if you can find them. Fatheads will do.
4. Know which jig to fish, and how. Keep a jig at or within inches of the bottom and your line vertical into the water, i.e., hanging straight down. To achieve this presentation consider, in combination, boat speed, water depth, water current and jig weight.
Example: In calm, shallow water, a baited lightweight jig, say 1/8 ounce (or, more rarely 1/16 ounce), will be sufficient to hold the line vertical. Such a jig is advantageous because a walleye inhaling it (which many do, rather than gulping or attacking it) will hold the light jig longer than the fish would a heavier jig.
Also, try various jig-and-bait presentations to find which works best. One has the bait dropped to the bottom, before being fluidly lifted (or, variously, jerked) a few inches upward before being dropped again. Another is “dead sticking,’’ in which the bait is dragged along the bottom.
And think slow this weekend. The water is cold. Fish aren’t moving fast. Neither should your bait.
5. Electronics help. Even basic depth finders with price tags under $200 can greatly aid walleye finding and catching. Three reasons: Water depth can be determined; fish can be located (or not) below the boat; and the lake’s bottom structure can be “seen,’’ allowing the angler to look for underwater rock piles, points, etc., variations of which, one to the others, often are walleye haunts.
6. Try other live bait rigs. Oftentimes walleyes will take one rig and not another. If a jig isn’t working and other people in the area are catching fish with the same bait (e.g., minnows) you’re using, and/or if you can “see’’ walleyes on the bottom with your electronics but can’t get them to bite, try a sliding sinker, or “Lindy’’ rig. Depending on the bottom structure, you might snag more often than you did with a jig. But getting the bait away from the (weighted) jig, as a sliding sinker rig does, and presenting it (depending on leader length, boat speed and other factors) 1 to 5 inches off the bottom, might be the ticket.
Similarly, slip bobbers can sometimes produce fish when other presentations won’t. Their use allows anglers to keep their boats and (noisy) motors away from places holding walleyes, which anglers reach by casting the bobber rigs. The rigs, in turn, can be set to present baits at various depths.
7. Don’t forget crankbaits. Sometimes walleyes will hit crankbaits when they won’t take a minnow, leech or night crawler. In Minnesota’s first weeks of walleye fishing, these “hard baits’’ produce best at or near sunset, and at night, when dock and shore anglers can cast them successfully. Crankbaits “long-lined’’ (trolled) behind boats in bays and along weedlines also can produce limits, particularly in evening and at night.
8. Be a copycat. If someone in your boat is catching walleyes consistently, mimic him or her exactly. In rig, bait and presentation.
9. Use the proper gear. See the sidebar to this story for a detailed list of basic walleye fishing equipment.
10. Appreciate the mystery. Sometimes an angler does everything right. But fish still don’t bite.
That’s why it’s called fishing. Not catching.
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424