Night crawlers, as everyone knows, are great bait, especially for walleyes. They can be fished fast, i.e., spinner rigs, impaled on a jig, worked slowly on a Lindy rig, even hooked on the back hooks of swimming lures. When I am fishing for walleyes, I'll always have crawlers along. The only downside crawlers have is their care and they create a mess.
Years ago I would discover that crawlers that were stored in my cooler would get out. They would then be crawling around in melted ice water. I noticed that they would absorb water and actually fatten up. Another bonus was they were free of dirt or bedding. The mess was gone. Since then my night crawlers are prepared by placing them in a container of lake water--let's say a dozen at a time then put back on ice in the cooler. I use lake water or spring water because city water is chlorinated. When I no longer need the crawlers, I simply drop them on top of freshly prepared bedding and place them in a refrigerator. I set my refrigerator at about 40 degrees. After a few hours, I check them and discard any dead ones.
No more mess--no more dirty fingernails, no more dirt in the bottom of the boat and faster rebait time. Try it. I think you will agree!
Since I live in International Falls, I get to fish Rainly Lake where the northern pike season is continuous. This enabled me to learn more about fishing pike in cold water as I can start fishing as soon as I can get a boat on the water. I love catching big northern pike and the first couple of weeks after ice out are the best. Since pike spawn in shallow, weed and reed filled bays, that is where we look. I prefer large bays that have cattails, submergent weeds and emergents such as bullrushes or pencil reed.
My presentation depends on water temperature. On my boat the temperature probe is on the trolling motor which is about 18 inches below the surface. Since I am usually catching pike in less than five feet of water, even as shallow as one foot -- that means the temperature reading is pretty close.
This spring we were on the lake the day after ice out and found water temperatures in one of my favorite bays was already 46 degrees. Remember the bays usually are ice-free before the main lake. I got lucky and my first pike was a 42 incher which I released. We only caught three pike in four hours that day. The other two were small.
Over the years I've caught some really nice pike in water temps between 46 and 55 degrees without using live bait. The best baits are the ones you can work slowly and erratically especially in cold water. Bass style suspending jerk baits are my favorite. Rapala's Xraps or Storm's thunderstick and other companies that make shallow running, suspending baits. These baits are weighted so they rise very slowly when paused so they give the illusion of suspension. That is when the strike usually occurs. Cast it out and retrieve in a series of erratic jerks and pauses varying your pause depending on conditions. Example: long pauses in cold water, etc.
I use 30 lb braided line with six feet of 14 lb monofilament leader tied directly to the lure. Bite offs are fewer in cold water. If you need to add a steel leader, the lure will not rise slowly, instead, it will sink. This can cause problems--you can experiment. Plastic baits rigged weedless are sometimes the best cold water pike rig you'll ever use. I rig those the same way I would a jerk bait. Cast these baits into weed or reed beds where treble hooks do not dare to tread. My favorite plastic baits would be bass size flukes or sluggos or any of the new plastic swim baits that you can rig weedless, favorite colors would be pearl or white--as I can see these baits and work them better. Cast them out and retrieve them with a series of jerks and pauses so they look like a dying bait fish. Once the water temperatures reach 55 degrees or more, spinner baits, spoons, or other faster moving lures will be more effective.
Your temperature gauge could be the most valuable tool you possess on the opener no matter what species you are after, water temperatures in some Northern lakes may range as low as 40 or 50 degrees.
This means you should look for the warmest water you can find. Even a few degrees can make a difference. Shallow bays with weedy or mucky bottoms, mouths of streams, man made channels, etc., especially those on the North and Northeast shores where the sun casts its heat at its zenith.
Wind plays a big part because it blows the warmer surface water around. Example: one side of a lake can be warmer if the wind has been blowing toward that side for a day or more. If you can pick the lake you'll fish during the early season -- smaller, shallow stained lakes will be warmer. Obviously, the lakes in the Southern part of the state will be warmer. Just make sure the lakes you pick have a good supply of walleyes. You can go on the DNR websites and get that information. I've been known to switch lakes even on opening day because the lake I started on was slow. That move saved the day on a few occasions. If you do not find the fish, you cannot catch them. It doesn't take a genius to find the warmest water you can in any lake.
Plankton and insects get active as the water warms up. They draw in the minnows which the game fish feed on. Until you find water at least in the 50 degree range, you must keep your lure presentations as slow as possible. Very small one-sixteenth or one-eighth ounce jig dragged instead of jigged vigorously can be very effective. If you find a concentration of walleyes, it is very hard to beat a bobber-leech combination. As the water temperature warms, you can increase your presentation speeds. As an example: trolling rapalas or casting crank baits of some kind--rapala's Xrap is one of my favorite presentations for casting in cold, shallow water for walleyes. This suspending lure is worked back to the boat in a series of glide and stop motions. The pauses between glides where the lure basically suspends motionless will be when the fish are triggered into hitting the lure.