Picking the best bait for opening walleye weekend

One of the busiest weekends of the fishing season in Northwest Ontario is going to look a little bit different this year. The walleye season opens on Saturday across the region and typically it is a weekend filled with fishing, friends and family for many of us. Thankfully we can still go fishing this weekend but we might not be able to fish with those who we traditionally do.
This weekend is usually the big opener for the tourism industry across Sunset Country as well. Hundreds of fishing resorts and camps would have been expecting many visitors this weekend, mostly from the U.S., but because of the travel restrictions currently in place, there will be significantly fewer boats on our waters. For me, growing up working at several camps around the region and continuing to guide as a source of income, the current situation makes me sad. I feel awful for all of the resort owners and outfitters out there who are being hit severely hard through this virus crisis. Most are not eligible for government support either. It’s tough. My hope is that travel and U.S. border will reopen sooner than later.
If you are headed out walleye fishing this weekend, the recent stretch of cold weather has certainly slowed down the spawning routine that these fish go through this time of year. Usually by the time the season opens, walleyes have spawned and are ready to start feeding again. The weather looks great for the weekend so I expect the fishing will be pretty good but we may have to fish shallower and a little closer to traditional spawning areas than normal.
The fun thing about fishing is you just never know where you are going to find the fish and what you are going to catch. We usually have an idea but often we are surprised while we’re out there at where the fish actually show up. Since opening weekend walleye fishing is a tradition for many, most anglers probably know the general areas where they are going to fish, it just might take a little bit of moving around to find the sweet spot.
The water level is lower than normal on most waters and because water temperatures are still going to be quite cold, we need to keep an open mind when we look for walleyes. I think that areas with current will be good, as they usually are. Because of the lower water levels, there will be less current than normal. Warmer water will likely be helpful as well. If you fish a shallower lake or section of Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake where walleyes can be found in less than ten feet of water, you might want to pay attention to your water temperatures. Slightly warmer water can attract fish and make them more active. If there is a light wind out there, it will blow the warmer water into small coves and stretches of shoreline. Where I’m going to fish on Lake of the Woods, warmer water is the main thing that I’m going to be looking for.
There is no doubt walleyes are going to be found in all water depths from four feet down to 40 this weekend across Sunset Country. I like to fish in shallower water because often the fish are more aggressive and they’ll bite artificial baits better. I’m not planning to bring any live bait out with me on Saturday but there is no doubt that a live minnow on a jig is the best early season bait option. I will be using jigs tipped with soft plastic and am confident that my wife Shelby and I will be able to catch plenty of fish.
My top two baits are a Z-Man SwimmerZ, a small swimbait and a Hula StickZ worm. I’ll rig the small swimbait on a ¼ oz jig and the Hula StickZ on a 1/6 oz Finesse ShroomZ jig. The swimbait is similar to a traditional twister tail in that you can cast it out and retrieve it slow and steady near the bottom. It is great for covering water and finding fish, then I will fish more slowly with the small worm once a find a few. I’ve caught hundreds of walleyes on both of these baits over the past few years.
I hope you are able to get out fishing this weekend, the weather looks like it is finally warming up and the fishing should be good. Have fun out there and stay safe.