The Minnesota Walleye Opener is a holiday as big as Christmas for many fishermen in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This year, the big day falls on May 14th and all signs are pointing to another productive opening weekend. We want to extend a special thanks to Brian Brosdahl for providing a ton of great information for this article. Enjoy!
BEST BAITS FOR MINNESOTA WALLEYE OPENER?
Before we dig into the lakes, here are some universal tips that will help you catch more fish on any of the fisheries on this list:
Spottail shiners are always king, no matter where you decide to go. The lakes on this list are so good that you don’t need them to catch fish, but if you can get them, DO IT! According to Brian Brosdahl, “A spottail is a guaranteed bite.” You heard it here first, folks.
If you happen to get your hands on some chubs, please don’t waste them on a jig. Instead, you’ll want to drag them nose-hooked on a livebait rig, allowing them the freedom do what they do best: causing a ruckus and making walleyes mad.
If you’re fishing rocks, try a jig with a short-shank hook, like Northland’s Fire-Ball Jig or VMC’s Hammer Head Jig. Short shanks are great because they don’t get snagged up in the rocks. You may still wedge the jig in a tight place, but the hook itself won’t snag.
Now onto the list (in no particular order)…
Photo by Jason Mitchell Outdoors
Leech Lake is an extremely popular destination for Minnesota Walleye Opener, and for good reason. A couple years back, the Star Tribune wrote an article about the lake titled: “Leech Lake’s unique problem? Too many walleyes”. If you’re a walleye angler and that doesn’t peak your interest, I don’t know what will!
If you decide to launch your boat on Leech this spring, you’ll have some good fishing to look forward to. The lake is probably as good right now as it’s been in the past 20 years, with numbers of keeper fish and a tons of bigger slots. As is the case on most of these lakes, spottail shiners are your best bet. That said, the fishing is so good that you really don’t need them.
Recommended Guide: Leisure Outdoor Adventures
Photo by Cabela’s Scatter Rap Challenge
Lake of the Woods
Whether you’re searching for eater fish or a true trophy, it’s hard to go wrong with Lake of the Woods for Minnesota Walleye Opener. With 14,522 islands and 25,000 miles of shoreline, there is no shortage of beautiful landscape on Minnesota’s northernmost lake. Depending on where you live, it can be a long haul up to Lake of the Woods, but in our opinion, it’s worth the drive.
Many anglers will be fishing the Rainy River and around Pine Island and the Gap, but you can have success anywhere near the river mouths and primary points, intercepting walleyes as they move back into the lake. It’s typically a slip-in-the-current or anchor-in-the-mouth kind of bite. Gold is an excellent color on Lake of the Woods, as is pink. Brian Brosdahl recommends a gold Fireball Jig or a bubble gum RZ jig tipped with an emerald shiner. If you can’t get emerald shiners, fatheads or rainbows work. Frozen and salted shiners are another great option.
Recommended Guide: Capt. Tim “Wingnut” Hill
Photo by Leisure Outdoor Adventures
Mille Lacs Lake
When you’re talking about the best walleye lakes in Minnesota, Mille Lacs Lake needs to be in the discussion. Despite all of the bad pub surrounding the lake over the past year, walleye fishing is still VERY good — take it from us. One bonus: boat traffic should be down compared to past seasons with walleye being catch-and-release only this year. If you aren’t concerned with keeping fish, Mille Lacs is still a great place to spend your opener.
There’s a big bumper crop of small walleyes coming up on the big pond, along with a solid population of true Minnesota trophy ‘eyes. Look for fish on the gravel and on primary shoreline points, breaks and shoreline-connected bars.
If you need a break from the walleyes, Mille Lacs offers the best smallmouth bass fishing in the state, bar none. The crappie fishing is incredible as well, and the big pond hosts some of the biggest jumbo perch in Minnesota, if you can find them. With all the fabulous options on Mille Lacs, you could do much worse for Minnesota Walleye Opener.
Recommended Guide: Roach’s Guide Service
Photo by Jason Mitchell Outdoors
Upper Red Lake
Red Lake is a fantastic walleye lake and arguably the best all-around fishery in Minnesota early in the season. If action is what you’re seeking, that’s what you’ll get on Red. This past winter, the DNR made walleye regulations less restrictive due to “high walleye abundance and large numbers of fish from 12 to 21 inches.”
You’re going to find a lot of fish scattered throughout the shorelines on both the north and south sides of the lake. The best depth range tends to be around 4-6 feet this time of year. Shiners work great on Red Lake; drag them, jig them or put them below a bobber. The benefit of using a bobber is that you’ll catch the occasional crappie, and on Red Lake, they grow them BIG.
Recommended Guide: Bro’s Guide Service
Photo by McArdles Resort
Located just north of Leech Lake, Big Winnie is truly a phenomenal walleye fishery in it’s own right. Nearly 95 % of it’s 35-mile shoreline is undeveloped, so the lake’s scenic appeal makes it an ideal location to take the family for the weekend. If you’re out on Winnibigoshish for opener, you might just run into walleye legend Gary Roach. In a past interview, Mr. Walleye had this to say about the lake: “I like Winnie so much I bought me a cabin on that lake.”
Last winter, there were a lot of 14-17 inch walleyes showing up, just below the 18-23 inch protected slot, so there will be a lot of good action for eater fish this spring. You’re going to find a lot of fish between 8-10 feet of water. A great area to start is in Cutfoot Sioux, working the shallow shoreline breaks from Williams Narrows to the mouth. Spottail shiners are the best bait, of course, but don’t worry if you can’t get them; they aren’t necessary.
Recommended Guide: Bro’s Guide Service
Photo by Lindner Media Productions
If you’ve spent time fishing in Canada, you’ll feel right at home on Lake Vermilion with it’s beautiful scenery and mazes of rocky structure. As a matter of fact, Vermilion is actually the southernmost Canadian Shield lake. Most importantly, the walleye fishing is superb! Test-netting on the lake last fall recorded an average of 19.1 walleyes per net, which is the third highest average in over 30 years.
Several spawning rivers in it’s many bays should provide good concentrations of walleyes. Throwing jigs tipped with minnows around the mouths is always a good bet during on Vermilion during Minnesota Walleye Opener.
Recommended Guide: Wild Country Guide Service
Photo by Perham Focus
Otter Tail Lake
Here’s one for all of you in the western part of the state. Otter Tail Lake has a MASSIVE amount walleye in it, plain and simple. Big Pine, Little Pine and Rush Lake should all be productive as well, but based on our experience, Otter Tail is the place to be. It’s the biggest lake in the region, and there’s a hatchery right on the lake, so it gets it’s fair share of walleye fry each year.
Early on, anglers catch fish really shallow on shoreline breaks. It’s a jig and minnow bite and a slip bobber bite near the mouths of the rivers. The nice part about fishing Otter Tail on opener is, it doesn’t get hit nearly as hard as the other lakes on this list; and it’s not due to a lack of fish. Local sources claim that spottail shiners are your best option, and anything else is a distant, distant second as far as bait choice is concerned.
Recommended Guide: Bret’s Guide Service
Photo by Bill Lindner
Big Rainy Lake is the “other” bookend walleye fishery on the Minnesota/Ontario border. While it doesn’t get the same kind of attention as it’s sister fishery, Lake of the Woods, it is a true walleye factory in it’s own right. If you pick Rainy for walleye opener this spring, expect picturesque scenery and a lot of action!
As is the case for many of the lakes on this list, spring anglers do really well at the entrances and exits of rivers. You’re going to have a lot of success anchoring up in those areas, and pitching out jigs tipped with minnows. Black Bay is no doubt one of the best areas if you’re looking for a place to start.
Recommended Guide: RainyDaze Guide Service
Looking for some tips and tricks to help you catch more fish during the Minnesota Walleye Opener? — Check out our “Bulky Walleye Jigs for Subtler Retrieves” video where Al and Dan Lindner discuss the benefits of using bigger, bulkier jigs. If you’re just looking for something fun to watch, check out “Spawning Walleye – Up Close and Person“. It’s probably the best spawning walleye footage you’ve ever seen.