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Brad Laabs: Fishing opener tips for the Detroit Lakes region

If you find baitfish, gamefish are close by, or soon will be, since food is a major driver after they are done with their preoccupation with their yearly spawning activities.

Brad Laabs with a friend he met on opener weekend. Submitted photo
Brad Laabs with a friend he met on an opener weekend. Submitted photo

DETROIT LAKES — It looks like we are getting done with our weirdly long and slow spring. The small shallow lakes started to open up by the second or third day of May, and most lakes in our area should be open after this weekend. For sure, given the high winds and warm weather, all lakes will be open in our region by the “opener” on Saturday, May 13.

It will take the lakes a little while to warm surface temperatures up, so expect colder than normal water temps for the opener.

One of the best bites for the opener may be for crappies and sunfish in shallow spawning areas, as they will start moving to the warmest water.

Look for the smaller shallow basin lakes to warm first, especially if they have a little stained water. Shallow soft-bottom bays with the earliest weed growth also become good locations to check out for early season pan fish.

The north shoreline areas always warm faster than the main lake or south shore areas, as the sun has a lot of power now. Casting small jigs and minnows or plastics, or casting a slip bobber tipped with a crappie minnow or fathead will get the job done.


Most walleyes will be found in shallow water ranging from 4-14 feet (depending on the lake). They are just coming off their spawn, and some of the males may even still be milting by the opener next Saturday.

They will be hanging out in hard-bottom spawning areas. On some lakes (usually the lakes that are the slowest to warm up), the schools of minnows are slow to move up into shallow water, and will hang off the edges of the breaks in deeper water.

If you find baitfish, gamefish will be close by, and if they aren’t there, they will be soon, as food is a major driver after they are done with their preoccupation with their yearly spawning activities.

Spot tail shiners are a favorite early season meal, but there may be limited supplies due to the late netting and trapping this year.

Jigs and minnow or plastics are a great early season presentation option for walleyes. Leeches may be more available, and they can work on a jig, live bait rig, or a slip bobber presentation.

If water temps get to 60 degrees on a few of the lakes by opener, night crawlers will also come into play.

When fishing the shallow water, stay outside the area you want to fish and cast to the shallows. Getting over the top of fish in water less than 10 feet can spook fish out of the area, especially on the clear water lakes in our area.

Work your presentations a little slower to give fish time to react. Try several cadences with a jig presentation, as well as colors. A drag and pause is worth a try, as well as a slow lift and drop, or a twitch and pause when fishing with live minnows.


If casting plastics, try a steady retrieve with a paddle tail or swirl tail, a pop and drop, or a snap and drop and pause. Fish the plastics a little more aggressively than the live minnow to impart action on the tail.

You can cast live bait rigs to the shallows and bring them back slowly, or let them sit with the bait on a leash and let the fish find your bait. Casting a slip bobber tipped with a minnow or a leech can shine when the fish are up shallow.

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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