Outdoors column: A few early season fishing strategies

What a weird start to the 2013 fishing opener.

Plenty of ice still roaming around our larger lakes as our smaller lakes begin to open up.

Just because lakes are free of ice doesn’t mean fish are biting. Water temperatures need to in the high 40s before they become active.
Just because lakes are free of ice doesn’t mean fish are biting. Water temperatures need to in the high 40s before they become active.Submitted photo

Because we are faced with such an unusual spring, fishing tactics will have to be adjusted to help us put fish in the boat under difficult conditions. The water temperatures are lagging behind requiring the modern angler to shift fishing presentations accordingly. Here are some thoughts on how to handle these conditions and some strategies for our early season.

Water temperatures dictate experimentation

As the ice leaves our larger lakes expect water temperatures to be lagging behind well into the low 30s. Just because the lake becomes ice free doesn’t mean the fish are biting. Water temperatures need to accelerate into the high 40s to get the fish active and biting. Instead of just fishing the shallows like we do traditionally year after year you can bet those fish won’t be shallow at least for the first couple of weeks especially on the larger waters.

Think deep initially

When I am faced with a late spring I actually look to the deeper water where the gamefish are staging and try and catch these somewhat neutral fish before they move shallow. This means typically 20 to 40 feet of water very nearby their shallow spawning areas.

Remember that all walleyes don’t do the same thing at once, they tend to deviate from day to day which is a good thing for their reproduction. Even some of the early spawners will be hanging out in deeper water.

Instead of doing the traditional drift in your usual fishing spots, look deep to the first break and start from there.

Deep presentations

This is the time for slow moving baits and spending a lot of time looking and snooping with your electronics. I make it a point to start looking in these deeper breaks and scan the breaks from top to bottom looking for fish on the screen. I never stop the boat for single marks but rather wait until I spot a small group from three to five fish.

These are worth stopping for and fishing for when they are in small groups. I drop down a small leech or feisty fathead minnow on a plain-jane livebait rig and use my electric trolling motor to move through these fish. Chances are with proper boat control you can catch a fish or two before spooking the small school.

If you hit enough spots with this technique you should have a nice collection of fish after a few hours. Even if these fish are neutral with the cold water, very few walleyes can ignore a slow moving, enticing leech or minnow just above their heads.

I use a plain hook (non colored) with a 3/8 ounce sinker and a five-foot leader. Slow is the name of the game with late springs such as we are experiencing right now.

Lake choices

My first few weeks of this open water season I will be targeting small lakes from 800-to 1,500-acres trying to catch these fish in a later stage of development.

This means your odds are much better on a lake that has warmed sooner and the fish should be more active and ready to bite versus the larger, open lakes with deep water and large expanses.

I would expect our larger and smaller lakes will be peaking much later this year probably around Memorial Day. At that time, nature will correct this goofy spring and fishing will be red hot throughout the entire state of Minnesota.

Geat ready!