What to do opening day if your lake of choice is ice-covered? It’s a dilemma many Minnesotans will face Saturday — including, possibly, me. Winnibigoshish is where my friends and I planned to fish during the season’s first weekend.
And we’re sticking with that choice, in large part because McArdle’s Resort, where we’re staying, offers access both to the 67,000-acre lake and the Mississippi River.
If the lake is iced up, we’ll fish the river.
Which is good advice for anyone looking for walleyes on the opener. Fish a river, with its walleye-attracting currents. Or find a lake with a river inlet and/or outlet. Both could provide great action in this unusual spring.
Another option: Choose a lake or river in the middle or southern parts of the state, where ice won’t be a problem.
For opening weekend walleye suggestions in those regions, I called DNR fisheries chief Dirk Peterson, who graciously polled some of his regional fisheries managers, who offered these suggestions:
• Big Sauk Lake: Walleye fry stocking in this 2,125-acre Sauk Centre lake makes it a go-to spot, with good numbers of walleyes 13 to 19 inches, and some bigger. The Sauk River runs through it, and current will aid anglers. Good crappie action is also possible.
• Chisago, South Lindstrom, North Center, South Center and Green lakes, near Chisago City: Most are bass-panfish lakes, but walleye fingerling stocking maintains walleye fisheries. Chisago and South Lindstrom, connected by a channel and sharing a public access, have the highest numbers of walleyes and northern pike. Green has a 17-inch minimum walleye length, and plenty of quality-sized northerns. On North and South Center, try for panfish as well as walleyes.
• Mississippi River near Red Wing and Lake Pepin: Year-round fishing is available here. But the cold spring has slowed action, which could pick up with the coming week’s warmer weather. Caveat: Spring river flows can be heavy, and cautious boating is advised.
• Washington Lake in Meeker County: This 2,433-acre beauty was surveyed by DNR crews in 2012, with a walleye gill net catch rate of 9.5 per net. Average length was 12.3 inches.
• Big Stone and Traverse lakes on the Minnesota-South Dakota border: Both are large and excellent walleye choices. Shore fishing also is available. On Big Stone (12,600 acres and 26 miles long) the 2012 walleye gill net catch rate was 31 per net, with the majority of walleyes between 15 and 20 inches and an average weight more than 1.6 pounds. Larger walleyes also are present, and northerns up to 36 inches were sampled. Traverse Lake (11,500 acres) had a catch of 42 per net, and the majority were 16-20 inches long, with an average weight more than 1.8 pounds. Trophy walleyes are available here also, as well as northern pike and trophy bluegills.
• Big Kandiyohi Lake (2,692 acres): Located south of Willmar, Big Kandiyohi is a “best bet’’ for walleyes. Large and shallow (15 feet deep maximum), the lake was stocked with walleye fry in 2008, 2009 and 2011. The 2011 survey indicated a near historical lake record, with nearly 33 walleyes per gill net, many in the 1-3-pound class. Look also for jumbo yellow perch and bluegills.
• Green Lake (5,406 acres): In the town of Spicer, Green boasts an all-around fishery, with the lake’s walleyes again in excellent shape. The 2012 survey yielded 10 per gill net and a 1.2-pound average. The Middle Fork Crow River inlet below the Olde Mill Inn Dam along the north shore can be excellent early for walleyes and northerns. Expect also great smallmouth bass fishing in midsummer. Note: When visiting this and other lakes, clean your boat of hitchhiking invasive plants and critters before launching and upon leaving.
• Norway Lake (2,344 acres): East of Sunburg, this lake, especially its West Norway Lake basin, can be excellent for walleyes during a late spring, because of its shallow depth and rocky points. The 2010 survey showed 9.4 walleyes per gill net, with a 12-inch average size. Try also the main basin’s rocky points and bar areas. Good northern fishing here also.
• Koronis (3,014 acres) and Rice (1,639 acres) lakes: Near Paynesville, these two lakes are excellent choices for walleyes, large northern pike, large black crappies, bluegills and midsummer largemouth and smallmouth bass. The North Fork of the Crow River connects the two.
• Madison Lake (1,439 acres): Located by the town of the same name in Blue Earth County, Madison Lake has been a perennial walleye hotspot. The 2011 survey yielded nearly 11 walleyes per gill net, with an average of 18.7 inches and a little more than 2 pounds. Northerns, crappies and bluegills are good options. But plan ahead: Madison will be busy on the opener.
• Also try: Diamond Lake, northeast of Atwater, and Long and connected Ringo just west of Spicer. The latter two are shallow and fertile, with abundant numbers of smaller (12 inches and up) walleyes, and some trophies.