STATEWIDE, THEY SWIM
Walleyes are native to Minnesota and are found throughout the state in all major drainages. Large lakes such as Mille Lacs, Upper Red, Winnibigoshish and others are virtual walleye factories. Including waters where they have been stocked, walleyes can be found in more than 1,700 lakes in the state, and in over 100 rivers and streams totaling more than 3,000 miles of river habitat. Common to the best walleye waters is habitat free of pollution that also provides cover and food. Rock and gravel spawning shoals are also critical to sustaining walleye populations. Winter or summer, these fish bite, but May and June usually provide the best action.
No state comes close to Minnesota in the number of walleye fingerlings and fry stocked each year. Without stocking, walleyes wouldn't appear in the number of state lakes they do, mostly because the habitat wouldn't support them, or because fishing pressure is too great. In all, the DNR produces as many as 5 million walleye fingerlings a year and millions of fry for stocking.
OPENING DAY: WHAT TO EXPECT
Minnesota hasn't had a spring like the one just concluding -- perhaps ever. So fishing predictions are risky. Best bet is that fishing will be good to perhaps better than that -- in some respects, more like action encountered in most years over Memorial Day. But first, anglers will have to find 'em.
FISH LIKE THE PROS
Here are tips for opening day:
• Get up early. Either that or stay up late and start fishing at 12:01 a.m Saturday, when the season opens. Both time frames take advantage of the walleye's aversion to bright light.
• If fishing before daybreak, try trolling floating Rapalas or other crankbaits in water 5-12 feet deep as far from your boat as practical, preferably along windswept shores. Vary lure type to fish deeper.
• As the sun rises, a jig and a minnow -- shiner or fathead -- fished along drop-offs, humps and, again, windswept shores should produce enough fish for shore lunch. Use the lightest jig capable of keeping your line perpendicular and bait on the bottom.
THE OLD TRAPPER'S RECIPE
Bob Lessard, the former state senator from International Falls turned DNR liaison to the north country, long has been famous for his beer-batter walleye recipe. The Old Trapper, as he's known, regularly serves walleyes done his special way at his fishing camp on Trout Lake, a short floatplane ride from International Falls. Ingredients needed to cook the way Bob cooks include:
• 1 cup flour.
• 2 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. garlic salt; 1 tsp. lemon pepper; 1 tsp. baking powder.
• 1 cup beer.
• 1 or 2 eggs, as desired.
• Combine eggs and beer; mix in dry ingredients. Stir. Cut fillets in half and dry on paper towel. Dip fillets in batter.
• Fry in deep fryer or skillet with oil at about 350 degrees until golden brown.
Regularly, Lessard serves his walleye with a garden salad, hash browns and/or baked beans, occasionally -- as when rain or shine prevails -- adding a martini made dry, shaken not stirred.