Brad Laabs column: Here's where to find fish on the opener
We are a week away from the "fishing opener." Along with the deer hunting opener, these are the most popular of the unofficial Minnesota holidays.
With the weather we are having now and the forecast through next weekend, it is shaping up to be a very good opening weekend. The warm weather will make for busy lakes. Remember to practice patience at area accesses, as there are always some anglers that just aren't as prepared, organized, efficient, and thoughtful of others as you are.
With the beautiful weather and warming water, the spot tail shiners should be in shallow water getting ready to do their thing. That means that walleyes and northern will be there too, as it is a primary early season forage for both species. They are a high protein, desired, and vulnerable meal for walleyes.
With the warming water temps, all baits (minnows, leeches, night crawlers) will be in play, as will artificial and plastic baits. If you struggle getting your walleyes, chase some panfish, as they will be peaking with their shallow water bite activity by opener and the following week.
You can target bass to catch (but can't keep any until their opener) if you like, as they will also be extremely active in shallow water weeds and cover. Don't worry about catching fish, as the northern will always cooperate with feeding on your offering. Get close to the outside edge of the underwater weed line and fish with bait and you will catch them.
Look for walleyes to be on the first breaks to deeper water off large flats or known spawning areas.
Walleyes like to spawn in current areas with hard bottom, shallow gravel or rock areas off points that extend into main lake areas, or shallow gravel or hard bottom flats that tend to be the most common wind swept area of the lake.
Breaks of those flats that range from 2-3 feet, flatten out to a slow taper, and then drop sharply to deeper water can be consistent early season fish holding areas. Drops from like 7-10 feet, with a taper to 13 and then a sharp drop, will be walleye magnet areas to stage and feed.
In some lakes, that break may be from 10-13 feet with a taper to 16 or 18 feet and a sharp drop. Check lake maps, or study your GPS mapping chip to find several areas like that on the lake you will be fishing, and check those out first.
Sometimes the fish will be scattered up on the flat, sometimes holding on the first drop or scattered on the tapering flat before the sharp drop. If we get hit with a cold front (not forecast....but you never know!) the shiners will slide off the flat and edge and into deeper water—.and so will the game fish that are targeting them.
The most important "trick" to catching walleyes, is finding their food.
Most often, if the wind is blowing, the fish will be up on the flat and shallow chasing the baitfish (look to the 4-10 foot water). If it is calm, they may be on the edge or the tapering transition. If calm and sunny, slide a little deeper to the edge of the sharper break.
However, sometime the basic rules change a little in the early season. Sometimes the sunshine will trigger the shiners to move up onto the flats, and the walleyes will follow. If you aren't graphing the fish in the 10- to 25-foot water, just trust that they are shallow. Don't worry about trying to see them on your locator in the shallow water, most times you won't. Trust they are there.
Jigs and shiners, live bait rigs and shiners, and slip bobbers with shiners or leeches will be "go to" presentations for this opener. But like always, some will get fish doing other things, like rigging crawlers, pitching jigs and plastics, fishing jigging or ripping raps, or trolling crankbaits. Part of the fun of this sport is learning to solve the puzzle and fool a few fish.
Good luck ... and good skill next weekend!
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)