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Brad Laabs: Anglers must adapt to cold conditions

Just this week the DNR started stripping eggs for spawning walleyes at Dunton Locks.

This late spawn activity, like everything else, is running at least a couple weeks behind schedule. The fact that we have walleyes in such late spawn in our area can also be a clue to consider for opening day strategies.

Male walleyes will hang around the spawning areas for some time after the females dump eggs and leave. The males will milk the eggs and stay in the area. Spawning areas for walleyes will include rock and gravel shoals, wind swept points, flats extending into the main lake that have hard bottom areas, and current areas that have rock or gravel hard bottom.  Eating size males should be holding in these areas and the larger females may be relating to deeper water on the edges of these areas. If food is present in the area fish will be close.

Typically, shiner minnows are a great early season bait to use right from opening day until they are done with their spawn (usually about the first week or so of June). This year may be very different, as we will be dealing with colder water temperatures. The shiners will not be moving into the shallows to get ready to do their thing until we get some warming days and the water warms up. Bait shops may even have a hard time getting shiners, and the demand could be higher than the availability. If you can get them, still use them, as walleyes love them. You may find more success using them in a little deeper water, where the shiners are hanging out waiting to come onto the flats. They are vulnerable when schooled tightly to get picked off by game fish looking for an easy meal.

Other minnow options that will be in play this year  will be fatheads, rainbows (if you can get them!), or small suckers. Some anglers will be able to fool some fish with all the modern plastic minnows available.

Plastics have a reputation for success, especially in cold water conditions (below 50 degrees). I don’t start using nightcrawlers and leeches until surface temperatures reach about 50 degrees, but there are always some anglers that have success using them right away on opening day, even when we are colder than average!

Leeches may also be very difficult to get right away as ponds are just starting to open up, and they need to warm some before the leechers start getting some quality and numbers.

Best tactics for this opener  will be the jig and minnow (or plastic) combinations, the live bait rig tipped with a minnow, and the slip bobber tipped with some live bait. Live bait rigs are many times referred to as a “Lindy” rig , a “Roach” rig, ( named after hall of fame anglers Al Linder and Gary Roach), or a “slip sinker” rig. It is a sliding weight on the main line that can get you to the bottom with a stop, and a length of leader ranging from 2-6ft in most situations.

Stay a little shorter with your leaders in this cold water period. I suggest you start in the shallow water spawning areas and work toward deeper water until you contact fish. It will be a little bit of a “crap shoot” for all of us…good luck.

Like all openers, some will catch, some will not, but we should all have fun trying. Some good anglers will get shut out, some rookies will do well. Some will find fish right were they are supposed to be, some will find them active in areas that defy the odds. Some will do the right things in the wrong places, and some will do the wrong things in the right places. It is the opener after all!

The issue this year, is that you will have to fish were you can, and not necessarily were you would like. Lakes that should open up for us will include some of the smaller lakes, some of the shallow lakes, and lakes with feeder creeks and rivers that help cut the ice.

We didn’t get nearly the runoff I was hoping and expecting. The thaw was slow and the ground took a lot of the moisture. Lake levels remain low and didn’t come up much. This last fall, lake access conditions became a challenge. They will be in the same condition at opener, especially because we are so late. The DNR will have very little time to address public access issues due to this bizarre start to our season. We may not even have docks and lifts in lakes that open just before the season does. We adapt to the opener we get.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)