By Tim Hanske
This is the time of year that gets everyone ready to go! The crappies and sunfish have been snapping, the grass and trees are getting greener and the pollen is flying. The 2016 Minnesota Walleye, Pike and Bass (catch and release) openers are upon us, and as anglers, it marks the tradition of going fishing. I have looked forward to fishing opener every year that I can remember and this year is no different. I wanted to highlight some of the lakes around the area and hopefully help you put a few more fish in the boat!
Gull Lake and Round Lake
I have spent many years starting the season on Gull Lake and it seems that year in and year out some areas always produce fish. Many people flock into the channels by Zorbaz and fish around the bridges looking for the walleyes that are using these bottleneck areas to feed on their way out into the big lake. These areas can be productive, especially if you are fishing from shore during the day or night. I like to pitch a Kenkatch Red Hook Long Shank jig with a nice shiner minnow around and fish it back nice and slow. Another method with the jig is to either drift or use your trolling motor to move around while slowly covering water.
For Gull some spots to check out are the shorelines around Booming Out Bay, Grassy Point, Cobins Bar, The Hay Field, Polks Flat, River Bar and anywhere else that will hold minnows this time of year. On Round Lake I usually start on the shoreline break right in front of the landing, the shore break in front of 371, or the Northeast Bay near the sand beaches. Typically a stealthy presentation such as a KenKatch jig and shiner combination will definitely help you locate some active walleyes. Live bait rigs and slip bobbers can also produce fish tipped with either minnows, leeches, or crawlers. I like to keep the boat around 8-15 feet of water, actively fishing, trying not to scare these shallow fish. Keep your eye out for green weeds emerging through the surface, as they can be baitfish hide-a-ways; a jig/shiner will fish through these very nicely.
North Long Lake
This lake can be fantastic fishing all year long, but especially on opener. There are many areas of underwater structure and typically boat traffic is less congested than Gull Lake. The same techniques apply and some spots to target would be right in front of the Merrifield public landing all the way to the south, the humps and their shore breaks in Merrifield Bay, Uncle Tom’s cabin (deep hole surrounded by sand on the southeast side of the main lake), Sullivan’s Bar, and the shore break between the main lake and 371 Bay.
Most of these areas have concentrations of minnows, sand to mud/rock transitions and emerging vegetation. Casting jigs, crankbaits or slip bobbers help locate walleyes that are using these spots during the day and night time. When fishing North Long, I like start fishing close to the weed line, and depending on what the fish are doing you can adjust your boat to present the bait without spooking them.
Mille Lacs Lake
Yeah, yeah, yeah…we know you can’t keep any walleyes, but for opener you sure can catch them! Just a short drive from Brainerd, Mille Lacs will be a great lake to open the 2016 season because you can hook a 28 inch walleye or a 20 inch smallmouth on the same spot! Be sure to stop in at Tutt’s Bait and Tackle in Garrison, MN because they will provide you with great information and everything possible for a successful trip on The Big Pond.
Opener on Mille Lacs typically starts on the North end sand, and trust me there will be walleyes from Garrison Bay all the way to Malmo. The trick is to find the areas of the sand that have scattered rocks plies or weed beds. In front of the Wealthwood public landing down towards the Red Door Resort is a pretty good starting place. You can cover water either by drifting or trolling KenKatch Jigs/shiners, live bait rigs with leeches/crawlers, or crankbaits. Walleyes will be scattered from 6-23 feet of water, so figuring out the best depth can take some time but is worth it once your hook is set! Normally on the flat calm days the fish will either be deeper or in the weeds, and on windy days the will be up on the rocks or sand eating minnows. Other spots to check include Garrison Reef, Pikes Point, Myr Mar Reef, Banana Flat, Seguchi’s Flat, and some other nearshore flats.
A short 50-minute drive North on Highway 371 will bring you right to the shores of this walleye factory. Here, many opportunities will present themselves to keep some walleye for dinner and hopefully put numbers in the boat as well. Most people will be hoping for some wind, and when the wind blows the main lake points come alive. Fish the points with the most wind blowing into them drifting a Kenkatch Jig/minnow, live bait rig or slip bobber to locate hungry walleyes on the prowl. Some of these main lake points include: Pine Point, Ottertail, Duck 1 & 2, Star, Hardwoods, Oak, and Stony Point. Most of these fish will be feeding on windy days in 5-12 feet of water and once you contact some active walleyes, it is generally a good idea to focus a small drift in that area. On the calm days, pitch a light jig/minnow around or use the boat to pull the bait along to locate the hungry schools of walleye.
The weather looks somewhat interesting for Saturday, but it is after all the Minnesota Opener! Dress in layers, be safe and be sure to remember that it most likely will be busy at the landings. Exercise patience, and even try to lend a helping hand! We all remember our first time using a public access, and we all still make mistakes at the ramps, especially when everyone is watching and waiting. Most of all have fun and catch some walleyes!!
Thanks for reading, GOOD LUCK!!