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Choose the right lake for early season Walleye

By Wisconsin Fishing Guide Mike Mladenik Fishing the Menominee River in Marinette, Florence, & Oconto Counties Wisconsin

The first Saturday in May marks the opening of the regular fishing season in Wisconsin. This year we are fortunate to get off to an early start as the season opens on May 6th.  Walleyes remain the number one target during May throughout the state.  The walleye opener is long awaited by many anglers especially across northern Wisconsin. Anglers do have the option of fishing certain rivers for spring walleye runs or lakes with special regulations but there is something unique about opening day. 
 For many, opening day is a ritual and they fish the same lake or flowage. However the objective is still to try and catch a few walleyes for dinner. While one year the walleyes may be active on your favorite lake, the next year they can have lock jaw. The problem wasnít the lake or the anglers ability, but rather there timing. If you really want to be successful on the opener you will need to approach opening day with an open mind. 
 Last year was an exception and walleyes were active on most lakes and flowages by the opener. Ice was gone by mid April and we were in a month long warming trend. Even cold fronts, which are common in spring, were a rare occurrence.  Not only were male walleyes on the feed but females also were active. 
Being a full time guide experience has taught me to forget about tradition or what happened last year. Each year is different and the wise angler heads out on the water with a well thought out game plan. Walleyes donít pay attention to the calendar but rely on water temperature. So when the ice leaves a lake or flowage, will dictate walleye activity by the opener not the calendar. 
Flowages can be the first place you see open water in spring. Due to snow melt, and increased water flow, ice out can occur earlier than most natural lakes.  On many flowages ice out is by mid April.  As the water temperature climbs pre-spawn walleyes go on the move. Walleyes will head up both the main river and feeder creeks to spawn. By the season opener walleyes have completed spawning and are in post spawn.  Male walleyes will supply action and can be counted on for a meal. Under stable weather patterns males will relate to shoreline wood or emerging weeds. 
A light 1/16 ounce jig and fathead minnow or jig and twister tail is deadly.  When using a light jig it is critical that the jig has an oversized hook. Use a slow steady retrieve with your jig. Due to the stained water six or eight pound will due. I prefer Berkley Fish wont let go XT clear six pound test in the snag infested flowages. A 6í6Ē medium light action rod like a Lamiglas fishing rods IMS 661 or a GS 66 MT Walleye Special is perfect for this situation.
Flowages are the most productive waters to fish after a cold front. After a cold front walleyes will hold tight to wood and you will need to fish them accordingly.   Toss out a slip bobber and minnow as close to the stump as possible. Another option is to still fish a live minnow on the bottom.  Females will relate to wood along the main river channel with vertical jigging most effective. Females will make movements into the shallows early and late in the day to feed. After a cold front use lighter line and crawl your jig as slow as possible. Often no retrieve is the best retrieve. 
Shallow weedy natural lakes will also see early ice out. Many of these lakes are stocked walleye lakes with only marginal spawning taking place.  Structure is limited and walleyes are easy to locate. The water can range from moderately clear to stained.  If there is an artificial spawning reef in the lake or riprap shorelines walleyes can be drawn there in big schools.  Even a small rock pile or gravel point can attract a large school of walleyes. The first week after ice out can see phenomenal action with smaller males. Get out early in the day and work the structure with shallow running crankbaits or a jig and twister tail.  During the day drift or cast a jig and minnow.  A cold front can shut down walleye fishing for a few days. 
The next lakes to see active walleyes are small deep clear natural lakes. I am referring to lakes between 100 and 300 acres. Most of these lakes have limited structure but can have an excellent walleye population. Besides having a good overall walleye population a fair number of big fish can be present. Most of these lakes will see ice out about one week after a flowage or shallow weedy lake. If the conditions are right walleyes can be in pre-spawn by the opener. Be on the water before daylight and cast a jig and minnow tight to shoreline points and rubble. As the sun rises concentrate your fishing to the breakline.  A 1/16-ounce jig and fathead minnow will supply action with male walleyes. If you are looking for big walleyes try a light jig with an oversized hook and a shiner.  If you hit these lakes during full spawn, put the boat on the trailer and head down the road. 
The last lakes to see walleye action are the large deep clear water lakes. Walleye structure can either be limited or abundant. Lakes with limited structure may have a lower walleye population but finding them will be easier. If the ice leaves the lake just before the opener you can experience hot trophy action. Big females will stack up on points or gravel shorelines. Once spawning is completed these are the most difficult lakes to fish with walleyes heading for deep water until weeds take hold. When fishing pre-spawn walleyes on a trophy lake catch and release is important. The only time a big walleye should be kept is if you are going to have it mounted. 
Early season walleye fishing need not be feast or famine. Pick a list different lake types and pick the right lake for the conditions. Donít make the mistake of always fishing the same lake during the early season. 

To book an early season walleye trip go to my web site www.fishinginfo.com/go/mikemladenik or call 715-854-2055. 



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