Early Season Walleye Strategies
I’ll be honest. Kipawa is a tough lake to fish walleye the first couple weeks of the season. From the season opener on May 20 until the around first week of June, it can be hit and miss. There are a number of reasons for this and knowing the challenges you are up against helps you understand how to increase the likelihood hits, and have fewer misses.
The spawning areas and adjacent areas are closed for fishing until mid June. We know that the breeding sanctuaries on Kipawa are one of these reasons the North end of Kipawa has such outstanding fishing all year long; we need to factor that we can’t fish the places where most of the walleye are into planning our early season fishing. Now, not all the fish in the lake are crammed into the spawning channels at the same time. Some don’t spawn, or don’t spawn in the sanctuaries, some spawn earlier and fall back into deeper water and recoup, some stay in the sanctuary and feed. It’s not until the water warms in the shallow bays that the walleye move in to feed aggressively. Until that happens, the walleye aren’t schooled together in the feeding areas. Strategically positioning your fishing location to intercept fish as they move out of the sanctuaries and into the feeding bays is a good bet. Troll or jig the bay mouths and narrows that funnel the migrating fish, and be patient. Remember, you need to wait for the fish to come to you.
Move around and try different spots, especially mid day. If the conditions are right and whatever it is that triggers the walleye to feed at a particular moment in a particular place, you have to be there. You won’t catch fish on land, so go out and give it a shot.
Trolling shorelines is not a bad approach either. The good thing about running a body bait behind as you go for a slow boat ride is you never know what you will catch, but you’ll probably catch something. Big pike are feeding now, smallmouth are aggressively protecting their nesting areas, lake trout and whitefish are feeding close to the surface. The water now is about 58 deg, which is prime temperature the cold water fish species like trout.
38″ Pike caught this week while trolling a J-5 Rapala
The cold water also means that warm water species like walleye are not aggressively chasing bait. You need to coax them into biting, so keep presentations small, light and slow moving. Cold water also means there is not yet an abundance of forage available. Really, the only natural food source this time of year are minnows, and as you know, live minnows are not permitted on Kipawa. Minnow imitating lures are the ticket. The fish will likely be suspended at the top of the water column, or in shallows of less than ten feet.
While the majority of the early feeding walleye will be juvenile and small males, the larger, post-spawn walleye will be moving in the next week or two. Every year, one of our guests seems to land a thirty inch walleye in the first few weeks of the season.
And the last point: manage your expectations. Early season fishing can be challenging, and the challenge is the sport. As the saying goes, it’s called fishing, not catching!
Have fun, and good luck! – Dave