|Tips for early season success... "Fishing the Iowa Walleye Opener!"|
In-depthangling.com Field Staff
Iowa Lakes & Rivers
One of the most anticipated timeís of the year for
anglers across Iowa is the walleye opener on the Iowa Great Lakes. The walleye season has been closed
since mid-February on West, East, and Spirit Lake. The walleye season opens back up the first Saturday
of May each year, the dates for walleye week-end this year are May 7 & 8th. The opener on the Iowa
Great Lakes is a huge event with people coming from all over the mid-west. At times there are as many
as 10,000 anglers in the area during this week-end. For some anglers the opener is a ritual of sorts
and they have been fishing it for many, many years with the same group of friends and family. Iíll
outline a rough guide for you in hopes that it will help you catch old marble eyes during walleye
By far the most popular lake during opener will be Spirit Lake. It is the largest natural lake in Iowa and has an outstanding population of walleye. At 12:01 a.m. on the first Saturday of May there will hundreds of anglers on the water ready to do battle in hopes of catching that trophy walleye. Since the season starts at night this is where we will start on our presentations. A great way to put a lot of fish in the boat at night is to slip-bobber fish with lighted bobbers. To me slip-bobber fishing is one of the most fun ways to fish for walleye. There are many lighted bobbers on the market but I choose to use the Thill Nite Bright lighted bobbers. Anywhere on the North end of Spirit Lake is a great place to start your search. This end of the lake has the warmest water during this time of year. A lot of times the walleyes will be in water that is shallow at night so I start around the 10í mark and work from there. At times they will only be in a few feet of water and are very aggressive when this shallow. If you are fishing with more than one angler in your boat a good idea is for each of you to use a different colored light in your bobber. Nite Bright bobbers have 3 different colors you can use. Red, green, and yellow, with red being the most popular. You can use leeches, minnows, or crawlers, or any bait of your choice. Leeches work great this time of year and the walleyes on Spirit Lake love leeches. A hook size of #6 works great as you want your leech to be able to swim and be active without a heavy hook restricting the movement of the leech.
Another option for night fishing on Spirit is to troll or cast crankbaits over shallow rock and gravel areas. Stickbaits like the Rapala Husky Jerk or the Berkley Frenzy Minnow are both fine choices. Remember that shallow eyes can be very spooky so stealth is very important when you target them at this time. If you choose to pull your baits make sure you long line them and use a quiet kicker motor or your electric trolling motor. If casting interest you then anchor as far way from your target as you can while still being able to reach it efficiently with each cast.
During the day I like to vertical jig, live bait rig, or pull spinners. Also slip-bobber fishing at dawn and dusk is another top option if you donít have lighted bobbers. Again remember to keep it slow. Fish in the spring are not as fast as the summer months and like to look at things a little bit before they commit to your bait. Spirit Lake will be very busy during the opener so please give yourself extra time and be careful on the water and at the boat ramps.
We will now make our way South to East Okoboji. East is the longest natural lake in Iowa . The last few years Iíve been fishing East on opener and have had good luck. The boat traffic is not as bad as it is on Spirit and there are plenty of hungry walleyes on East. You will notice your going to have to catch a lot of sub-legal fish but if you work hard enough at it you can get enough keeper fish to have a meal. I usually start on East early in the morning by slip-bobber fishing medium and shallow humps. At the same time I have a bobber out Iíll be casting stickbaits or plastics on top or on the edges of these humps. I caught walleyes, crappie, bluegill, perch, smallmouth bass, and a huge catfish during the first hour I was fishing last year on East Okoboji.
Once it gets light out I change tactics and go with jigging. Iíll either anchor and vertical jig or move very slowly with my electric. I keep my speeds from .02-.04 mph when moving with the electric. There are many good quality jigs on the market today but Iím going to take time to talk about 2 brands that you would be very happy with using. Iíll start with the H2O jigs from B FISH N Tackle Company. These are an excellent jig with great colors and they have the weight of the jig stamped into them. This makes it very easy to see exactly what size of jig you are using or want to use. The H2O jigs also have a small holder on them that is great for holding plastics on the jig. Another jig Iím very excited to put to good use this spring is the Nuckle Ball Jig from the Fin-Tech Company. Fellow guide and friend Jeff Patrick from Wisconsin brought these jigs to my attention and I think there going to be a top producer on the Iowa Great Lakes. Jeff has been very patient with helping me with the rigging options on these jigs. You can click on Fin-Techís web page to see a few of the different ways to rig the Nuckle Ball Jig. You can contact Jeff with any questions you might have on these jigs on the In-Depth Angling web site. Jeff is on the Staff for IDA and will be happy to help.
Once you choose the jig of your choice the next thing you need to go is decide if you want to rig with plastic or live bait. A lot of anglers are so accustomed to using live bait that they donít ever give soft plastics a chance. Take my word on this, soft plastics can and will out produce live bait at times. There are many fine choices of plastics on the market today so where do you start? Look for any plastic that has flavor or scent impregnated into it. The fish will hold onto these plastics a lot longer allowing you to get a good hook set on them. I like the 3 & 4Ē Power Minnows and the 3Ē Gulp! Minnow. They come in many different colors for your choosing. When the fish are on a plastic bite there are a few advantages over live bait. First of all a dozen plastic bodies will last a lot longer than the same amount of minnows, which in time will save you money. Second of all you save a lot of time by not having to re-bait with live bait after each fish. Again donít over look plastics when fishing for walleye on the Iowa Great Lakes.
Next we need to look at line choice for jigging. To me there is not a better line on the market to jig with than Fireline. If you have never used it before you will be surprised on how much better you are going to feel your bites. Remember to set your drag a little loose as Fireline does not stretch and you do not want to pull the jig out of the walleyes mouth with a hard hook set.
If working jigs does not produce fish for you try to work live bait rigs over any piece on structure you can find on East Lake. I like to use a #4 or #6 red bleeding hook tipped with a leech, minnow, or crawler. Remember to keep it slow on whatever presentation you choose early in the open water period.
Another option I want to talk about is pulling crankbaits on the very North end of East Okoboji. During high water years there will water running from the South end of Sprit Lake into the North end of East. This creates a current which will attract walleyes in this shallow upper end. There have been times when we have pulled crankbaits in this area and done very well during the month of May. Another option is to anchor and cast plastics during low light conditions in or around the canal that runs between these 2 lakes.
The last lake we will look at is West Okoboji. West is the deepest natural lake in Iowa, it can be a very difficult lake to fish early in the year. There are a few reasons for this. First of all the water is always very clear this time of year. On top of that if you do not have any wave action on the surface it can make things very tough during the daylight hours. Also this lake will always be a few degrees colder than Spirit and East because it is so deep. When you fish clear water it is very important to use a fluorocarbon line like Vanish. Fish cannot see fluorocarbon lines and I think it really helps in clear water conditions. One of the best ways to fish West during the opener is to pull crankbaits at night. I like to pull them in the bays above or around the emerging weed lines. Again I like to use stickbaits early in the year but there are many fine choices you could use. Also slip-bobber fish these weed lines or rock piles during the overnight hours. Another thing to try is to live bait rig the deeper water during the day in or around the many points that offer sharp drop-offs.
I hope you have found this article helpful for you if you do make that trip to the Iowa Great Lakes area for Walleye Week-end. These lakes offer some of the best walleye fishing the state has to offer.