Opening Day Walleyes

By Dale Helgeson - May 1, 2005
As my alarm rings and breaks the morning silence, I eagerly wake up. Quickly jump into my clothes and head outside to the driveway where my Skeeter 2050ZX is already attached to my truck. Full of anticipation for what the day has in store for me. Everything was prepared the night before including rigging rods and I made sure to go to be early even though I couldn't fall asleep.

It is here, opening day of fishing season on my favorite lake. I have been fishing rivers and reservoirs for months but now it is the time I look forward to the most. The lakes will be packed with fisherman but I don't mind as I have my favorite spots to hit today for my annual pilgrimage to the lake.

Opening day has very special meanings to many people. It is the official start of summer for fisherman. Now we are free to fish everywhere everyday for my favorite fish the walleye.

As I unhook my boat and park the Chevy Silverado my body is filling with a warm chill about the excitement to finally get out walleye fishing on my favorite lake.

But before I head out do I go to the usual spots that produced in the past or do I rethink my strategy to try to become more successful. Many fishermen go to the same spots every year. Some have good success and some have no success at all. Since I have been limited in my scouting due to a closed season it can be more difficult to locate fish.

Early season walleyes on lakes tend to be near their spawning ground still and some have yet to spawn in northern waters. Most lake walleyes tend to spawn in rocky, gravel, or sandy shorelines. On the lakes I fish which are deep and clear they tend to stay in around 10-16 feet of water to spawn. I find most of the early walleyes located near the first drop off near the rocky, sand, or gravel bottom shorelines. They seem to like the ones located in bays that have weed growth at least near by. This time of year the baitfish will push into shallow bays as they warm up first and the walleyes will follow them in when they are hungry. Once they are done spawning they will be putting on the feed bag.

One great early tactic especially on opening day is to troll. Trolling offers many advantages. It allows you cover a lot of water and seek out aggressively feeding walleyes. Once you have located them you can slow your presentation if you desire to jigging, casting, or live bait rigging but I most often just keep trolling through the aggressive fish until they stop biting before I will slow my presentation.

Early in the year I tend to slow my speeds down a tad to 1.0-1.5 MPH. I like to use less aggressive baits like Dave's Shiners, Shad Raps, Original Rapala's, and Dave's Deep Shiners. These baits offer a fair tight wobble which I like early in the year. Later in the year when the water temps get into the mid 60's I will use these baits as well as a higher wobble like the Dave's Winning Streak. But early in the year tend to stick with the slower action lures of the stick bait variety.

To set my depth I either troll the bait on a straight line until it hits bottom in the depth I am looking to run or I use the Trolling Bible which will give you the depth curves for just about any lures you want to use. I use Shakespeare line counter reels so I can duplicate my depth once a fish was triggered. Once I get my depth set for the lure I attach my Off Shore Planer Board with the tattle flag. This will not only spread the lures out to cover a larger area but the tattle flags also allow you to see if you have a fish or even set right can sense foul ups on your baits. I like to run as many lines as possible. If someone is with me I will run 6 lines one boards and if I have two people with me I may run two straight lines as well. One thing you will need on your boat is a good rod holder as well. I use RAM mounts as they are very durable and easy to use with any style of rod. Space them out to where you feel comfortable in controlling the rods. Only run as many rods as you feel comfortable keeping track of though to avoid getting yourself into a mess.

When I troll especially on opening day I will start with a target depth of say 10-12 feet of water for early morning and gradually work my way deeper as the day progresses. I do make sure to check my baits often and change the length of leader to the baits when changing depths to make sure the baits are running true and close to the bottom. It is ideal to have your bait tick the bottom every once in a while. You must keep it free of weeds as well.

I also like to use and S pattern when trolling to create a speed change in my baits. The outside boards will race to catch up speeding up your lures while the inside boards on the turns will slow down. This constant change in speed can trigger fish into biting rather than just straight trolling. The speed change as well as a slight variation in the depth can trigger fish into biting.

I use my Lowrance X15 to find the key locations and if there is wind try to work the wind swept shorelines close to known spawning areas. You should be able to pick up at least the schools of baitfish on your graph and if there is baitfish the walleyes won't be far behind. Make sure to work the points and the inside turns of points as well. Post spawn fish will concentrate on these areas looking for and easy meal.

Try not to limit yourself when fishing opening day to your old spots but try some new ones and you will be surprised at the success you can have. Trolling is a great search tool and if you are interested in just sitting over a spot with a slip bobber or live bait rigging try to troll first to find the aggressive fish and mark where you catch the fish either with using your GPS or throwing out a marker buoy. Then you can go back and concentrate on the areas you know are holding feeding walleyes.

Remember to take a child fishing and have a safe and successful day on the water.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures