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Where to Fish on the Opener

By Mike Mladenik - May 1, 2006
Being on the water on a daily basis a fishing guide learns to deal with the elements. We take the good and the bad and somehow manage to keep our clients happy regardless of the weather. Last May seemed like we were stuck in one big cold front with no light at the end of the tunnel. I would get excited after two days of stable weather hoping that the water temperature would climb a few degrees. Under these conditions fishing the right lake is a must.

So choosing the right lake to fish in the spring will have just as much to do with the conditions as choosing a lake with a good fish population. In fact a lake with a good population of quality fish may not be as productive as a lake with a marginal fishery. The lake with the marginal fishery can have limited structure but fish will stack up on any of the available structure.

Small shallow lakes will warm quickly and be weeks ahead of larger lakes. After spawning, walleyes will be at the mercy of the water temperature. If the water temperature rises they will go on the feed and if the water temperature drops they will have lock jaw. These smaller lakes may not hold trophy walleyes but they can be counted on for lots of action.

First off check the lake for any gravel or rock. With weeds being limited in the early season hard bottom will attract the most walleyes. The best rock and gravel areas will be close to shallow muck bays. The muck bays will be the first place to experience weedgrowth. Once weeds start to develop baitfish will move in. As weedgrowth intensifies, walleyes will move out to the edges.

A jig and minnow is the most effective presentation for walleyes. Matching the proper size jig to the depth water you are fishing is very important to use the lightest possible jig. Since we are dealing with water less than ten foot in depth 1/16 ounce jigs would be my first choice. I will go to 1/8 ounce jigs if there is a chop on the water.

Over the past few years I have relied on Tin Man Jigs. These tin jigs are plated with gold, silver, copper and black nickel. Painted jigs will loose visibility once they enter the water unless you are using a fast retrieve. A fast retrieve is unfavorable to early season walleyes. The plated jig is highly reflective and resembles the scales of baitfish regardless of the retrieve making them ideal for post spawn walleyes. Tin Man Jigs are also environmentally friendly.

If we do have a normal spring with periods of stable weather deep clear lakes and large flowages can be productive. Flowages would be my first choice for active walleyes under these conditions and clear lakes would be a close second. Walleyes in flowages recover quickly after spawning and remain shallow as they feed.

Flowage walleyes will relate to wood cover through early summer. Fishing tight to the wood is the secret to many flowages. Here again I rely heavily on Tin Man Jigs with the unique combination of the slow fall tin and high reflectivity of the plating. Copper and gold plated jigs work best under overcast conditions while silver works best under bright skies. One trick I use is to cast the jig tight to the wood and let the jig fall without any retrieve. The movement of a lively minnow will cause the jig to move and the reflectivity will trigger a strike. The slower you can work the jig and minnow in spring the better.

If we have a late ice out then you can look for some fish that have not yet spawned in larger lakes. Although a deep clear lake may hold trophy walleye they can be difficult to fish most of the season. In summer they relate to deep water or suspend as they feed on ciscoes. However if you hit it just right you will be able to catch a big pre spawn female.

Small shallow lakes can have excellent largemouth bass fisheries present. I fish several small lakes that produce big largemouth bass under the worst spring weather. Look for lakes were largemouth bass are the dominate predator. If bass are the dominate predator in the lake they will be aggressive throughout the day. If a high pike population is present the bass will only feed periodically.

Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft plastics are all effective on early season largemouth. I will typically start out with a crankbait, both to locate bass and determine the bite. Don't start out fishing the shorelines since you could pass up larger bass. I will concentrate on the first breakline with a Yo-Zuri Crank'n Shad and a Yo-Zuri Hardcore Jerkbait. The hardcore jerkbait is especially effective since the magnetic transfer system allows you to use a slow steady retrieve or an erratic twitching motion. This is the most versatile suspending jerkbait on the market.

After you catch a few bass with a spinnerbait switch over to a soft plastic jerkbait. Rig the jerkbait weedless with a sickle hook. Cast the jerkbait and let it drop for about five seconds than give it a short twitch letting it drop again. Always follow up with plastics after you catch some fish with a crankbait.

While I don't expect predictable weather after the May opener I know I am prepared for anything. By having many options you will be able to react to the weather and water temperature. Remember that you can catch fish regardless of the conditions if you are versatile.


Author Mike Mladenik
Mike Mladenik
Mike has been a Wisconsin Fishing guide for 25 years, authored several books, and has his own Television Show "Fishing with Northwood's Guide Mike Mladenik". Sponsors include Sylvan/Smokercraft Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Zieman Trailers, Lamiglas Rods and Peshtigo River Rentals. For more information go to his website
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