With opening day just around the corner, I'm recalling all the fishing reports from years gone by. Statements like “I couldn’t find the fish", "It was too windy to keep the bait in front of their noses", "I didn't have the right bait", or "There aren't any fish in this lake, it must be the dead sea!" are all comments heard around opening day. Sure, some of these reasons may be true for not getting opening day walleyes, but I believe that most problems lie with the tackle and presentation.
You don't need a lot of flash and fancy gadgets for early walleyes. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite. You need to slow down your presentation and keep it simple. To catch some opening day walleyes, concentrate on the following three things and you shouldn't have any problem putting some fish in the boat; location, boat control and bait presentation. Success on opener starts long before getting to the lake, by studying a lake map and developing a plan. The first places to look for walleyes are areas adjacent to where they have just spawned. Shorelines with pea to marble size gravel are ideal! The areas where rivers or small feeder creeks dump into the lake will warm the fastest and will also act as a walleye magnet. Sandbars will hold their share of walleyes too. Finally, don't forget to check the northern most shorelines; the sun will warm those areas first. Start shallow and watch your electronics. Once you have found the depth and an area that is holding walleyes, its time to get your rigs ready. Once you have positioned your boat where you want it and are seeing fish on the locator, the next step is to get the bait down to the walleyes.
Since it is early in the year and the water temperature will be low, you will need to present your bait so that it moves very slowly. Two of the best presentations to use are minnow-tipped jigs, and live bait rigs. I believe that nothing beats a live bait slip sinker rig. I prefer using the following set up: From the main line I tie on a #14 barrel swivel and a 5 - 7 ft. snell made from 6 lb. Berkley Trilene Fluorocarbon. On the business end, I use colored Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in sizes ranging from #8 to #2 depending on what live bait I am using. With the variety of colors that Gamakatsu has to offer, there is no problem finding one that will attract the walleyes. Lastly, make sure to use a removable weight so you don't have to retie if you change depths. Walleye bites can be difficult to detect. Sometimes you will feel a sharp tap while at other times your line will just start to get "heavy".
If you like to pitch jigs, this is the time of the year to do it. You can use the same set up that you use for live bait rigging. Just cut off the swivel and tie on a time proven, fish catching jig such as Fin-Tech knuckle ball Jig. These short-shanked, wide gap hooked jigs make jigging easy. At this time of the year, I think minnows work best. Fatheads are usually the choice because they are so readily available and are more durable than shiner minnows. Don't just rely on minnows though; crawlers can be good, and if the water is warm enough, leeches can be ideal.
The bottom line, to eliminate the “I didn't have the right bait" comment, be prepared to bring a variety of live bait along with you. So if you slow down your presentation, have precise boat control, prepare by bringing a variety of live bait choices, you should get your opening day walleyes, and not have to end the day saying "There aren't any fish in this lake, it must be the dead sea". See ya on the water.