With state officials recommending anglers fish close to home due to coronavirus concerns, the Minnesota Fishing Opener might look and feel a bit different this year. But don’t fret, says celebrated guide Tony Roach, there’s plenty of fish to catch near you. Shore anglers can catch multiple species almost anywhere with Original Floating Rapalas, and boaters who live near walleye lakes will have luck casting Rapala X-Raps and Shadow Raps, and trolling Rapala Husky Jerks and Shad Raps. Stay shallower than 10 feet for the most success.
“The funny thing with the quarantine and fishing close to home, my kids and I have done a lot of shore fishing for panfish in little back channels and culverts, that sort of thing,” says Roach, an in-demand guide on and around Lake Mille Lacs. “But what’s amazing is how many gamefish are in those same areas this time of year. Talk about fishing in your own backyard and being away from other people – some of these small little creeks and channels areas are ideal, isolated spots for fishing.”
While Minnesota anglers can catch panfish year-round, they cannot target walleye, northern pike or bass* until the Fishing Opener, which is May 9 this year. In walleye-loving Minnesota, it’s an unofficial holiday. And although state officials have asked anglers to fish close to home this year – rather than travel to distant lake homes, cabins or resorts – a lake with catchable walleyes is likely nearby. The Minnesota DNR stocks about 900 lakes with walleyes, and numerous windswept northern lakes are natural walleye factories with self-sustaining populations.
If you’ll be fishing a new lake this Opener, find current to find fish.
“Look for feeder creeks coming into lakes, rivers that dump into lakes, or even wave action on shorelines in shallow water,” Roach advises. “Anywhere you’ve got current, you’re going to find walleyes loaded up in there. You’ve got ample opportunities and there’s a lot of techniques you can use to catch those fish, because they are shallow.
“That’s what’s great about fishing this time of year – you don’t need the greatest of electronics to find walleyes,” Roach continues. “You can follow the shorelines and don’t need to go out in the middle of the lake to find a specific hump or spot-on-a-spot. The fish are generally along those shorelines, because they’re just getting done spawning, or still in the process of spawning, depending on where you’re at in the state.”
Whether you’ll be fishing Original Floating Rapalas from shore, casting X-Raps and Shadow Raps, or trolling Husky Jerks and Shad Raps, fish shallower than ten feet for the most success. Use baits in natural-color minnow patterns in clear water, and brighter colors in stained to muddy water and in low light.
“I stay pretty shallow this time of year – less than 10 feet,” Roach says. “A lot of shiners and smaller type of minnows are in spawning and up shallow, so I tend to use, especially in clear water, a lot of natural-colored baits – the shiner colors; the minnow-type of patterns. In low light, or stained water, that’s where you’re going to want your Fire Tigers and your brighter colors.”
Throw the Original Floating® from Shore
An Original Floating Rapala – AKA “Original Floater” – “is one of my favorite lures to throw from shore,” Roach says. “It’s one of those baits that works everywhere, because it’s so versatile.
“You can use it as a jerkbait, you can just crank it in on a steady retrieve, you can use it as a topwater,” Roach explains. “There’s no wrong way to fish that bait.”
And it catches pretty much everything that swims.
“It’s a great multi-species bait,” Roach says. “I’ve caught tons of walleye, pike and bass on Original Floaters.”
For anglers willing and able to hike beyond permanent fishing piers, productive public shore-fishing spots abound, Roach says. “There’s practically endless opportunities with these creeks and channels,” he says. “If you start looking at maps, it’s amazing how many of these spots are out there. It’s pretty mind-boggling.”
And don’t be surprised if your Original Floater pulls a biggun’ from small water. “What’s crazy is the size of some of the largemouth* and pike in some of these little creeks,” Roach says.
In the Daytime, Cast Rapala® Jerkbaits, and the Storm 360GT Searchbait®
When daytime fishing this time of year, Roach casts Storm 360GT Searchbaits and Rapala X-Rap and Shadow Rap jerkbaits around areas where the lake bottom transitions from sand to rock.
“A lot of the females have already spawned, but the males are going to be spawning like crazy on that sand-to-rock transition,” he says.
Many spawning males and some post-spawn females will likely be found sheltering in place in small depressions around rocky reefs with sandy bottoms, he says.
At Night, Troll the Rapala® Husky Jerk® and the Shad Rap®
Because the Minnesota Fishing Opener officially begins at 12:01 a.m. May 9, many anglers will take to their lake under cover of darkness. When fishing for early-season walleyes at night and in other low-light scenarios, Roach says, “there’s just no better baits than Husky Jerks or No. 5 or No. 7 Shad Raps, slow-roll-trolling them.”
With this spring’s warmer weather came warmer lake water, so you can troll a little faster than you would in colder conditions. “Anywhere from 1.4 to 1.6 miles per hour should be good,” Roach says.
* Minnesota’s catch-and-keep seasons for largemouth and smallmouth bass do not begin until May 23. Between May 9 and 22 however, bass may be targeted for catch-and-release, but must be immediately returned to the water after being landed. The catch-and-release bass season is effective only south and west of U.S. Highway 53 from Duluth to International Falls, excluding Pelican and Ash lakes in St. Louis County.