ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Alexandria’s Joe Scegura thinks of the Minnesota fishing opener for walleyes as much more than just another weekend on the water or a casual, unofficial start to the summer.
It’s an event. Scegura, who has guided clients on many west-central Minnesota waters for years, gets together with a big group of anglers. They go out in multiple boats on different lakes throughout the area before meeting up at the end of the day with plenty of walleyes and stories.
“It is as big a deal as any get together I have the whole entire year. I don’t like to compare anything to the birth of Christ, but it’s like Christmas for us,” Scegura said with a laugh. “I don’t think we have more fun than we do on opener at any other time of the year.”
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Scegura believes there is reason to be excited this year as anglers hope for a good bite right off the bat. Minnesota statute sets the fishing opener for the Saturday two weeks prior to the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
That means this year’s opener for walleye, bass (catch and release only except for the Northeast Zone), trout in lakes, and northern pike is as late as it can be on May 15.
Add that late start with the fact that it was an early ice out for lakes around the Alexandria area, and you have the recipe for what should be a quality bite in theory.
Warming water temperatures can trigger an aggressive walleye bite this time of year. While it has been cool in late April and early May, air temperatures are forecasted to be consistent in the 60s all week, and Saturday and Sunday look like sun and 65 degrees.
“It certainly won’t be one of those openers where we’re catching males and having them milt in the bottom of the boat,” Scegura said. “I’ve heard other people talking and everyone is still touting that they’re going to catch their fish in less than 10 feet. There will be fish there, but these lakes around Alex here are so diverse. If I go to a muddy, dirtier lake, yeah, let’s go up into 6-8 feet of water and catch our fish. But to tell somebody they’re going to be in that depth is a disservice I think.”
Move with the fish
Lakes around the Alexandria area vary greatly from those shallow, more turbid small waters that are often popular on opener to deeper, clear lakes that tend to warm up slower.
Scegura predicts the later opener could spread out the angling pressure. Instead of one or two lakes producing a fast bite and word spreading quickly, there’s likely to be more.
“Reno for example, I feel like you can get them shallow, but I think the masses are going to be caught in deeper than 10 feet of water,” Scegura said. “Miltona can be a tough bite. Ida and some of the deeper, colder lakes can have a tough bite, but it’s going to be a lot more even playing field. The shallow-lake fish haven’t been touched, and the deeper-water fish are actually going to bite.”
Scegura said the best approach on Saturday depends greatly on what time of day it is, along with other weather conditions.
“When you’re fishing low light, there’s no reason you should be in any deeper water than 3-4 feet,” he said. “If you’re fishing at midnight, you’re up on rock and shore and moving current. We have moving water everywhere around here. The whole chain is lit up and at midnight, there will be someone casting at every moving water spot almost guaranteed. If it’s low light, and it’s undisturbed where there’s moving water, I’m going to throw an artificial all night long.”
As it gets later in the day, Scegura and his fishing party tend to follow fish into deeper depths.
“Once it hits 7 a.m., you better have a good presentation, and for me that’s going to be a minnow and a jig or a minnow and a live rig,” he said. “Especially if it’s calm, you might have 45 minutes to 2 hours where they’re going to go in that shallow water. By shallow I mean 10-16 feet of water. After that, I think they’ll slide deeper. We’ll catch them 1, 2 in the afternoon but you might have to push to 20, 25 feet or something like that already on opener. That sounds silly to some, but they move a significant amount.”
Adjust with the times
A lot of anglers who are consistently getting on walleyes in recent years have talked about the importance of adjusting to changing lakes.
Many waters are so clear now in a lot of areas of Minnesota, in large part on many lakes due to the infestation of zebra mussels that filter out algae. That leads to clearer water, more finicky fish in some instances, and changing systems that include deeper weed lines as sunlight reaches greater depths.
"A simple technique -- slow and with light line and light hooks. Things like that on these clear bodies of water, that’s why our boats light them up."
- Joe Scegura, Alexandria area fishing guide
“If it’s super windy, fish the wind and fish 12-15 feet all day long, but if you got crystal clear water and it’s calmer, you’re going to have to move,” Scegura said. “You can’t sit on fish in 15 feet of water when it’s sunny out. It’s not happening anymore. Those days are gone.”
It often also means changing up tactics from what might have worked years ago in many cases.
“You can do vertical (jigging). You just have to be after fish that are deeper or be casting to them,” Scegura said. “A lot more casting than ever before. The amount of fish I read in 12-15 feet of water with a 2D sonar now is very, very few. You can’t drive over them anymore.”
Slow and simple
Scegura likes fishing inside turns and hooks on the opener.
“So if I’m thinking of some of the good spots I’m going to head to, they’re going to be where the weed edge is going to form and it’s a relatively hard bottom,” he said. “If you follow the contour lines, a lot of times there will be a point or an inside turn or some type of depression where there’s a contour change. It just seems to hold the bait and hold the fish.”
Scegura’s advice to anglers who maybe do not have a wealth of experience is to not overthink it at this time of year. A 1/8-ounce jig and a minnow -- shiners are popular, but chubs and fatheads are good too, he said -- will catch fish as well as anything.
“Simple stuff works in the springtime. Slow works in the springtime, so simple and slow,” Scegura said. “A simple technique -- slow and with light line and light hooks. Things like that on these clear bodies of water, that’s why our boats light them up.”