Jun 30, 2016

It's Opener Time!

By: Ken Jackson

The gamefish season is always an event that is looked at as a bit of a holiday here in Northern Wisconsin. Every opener is different as weather conditions, changing fisheries and tactics give each opener a different identity and result.

This year seems to be a bit unusual for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one of the mildest winters with the least amount of ice cover, in recent memory, has kept the health of many fisheries intact. In some harsh winters the effects of anoxia, or “freeze out,” has decimated some of the smaller, shallow lakes with significant eutrophic tendencies. This is not the case this year as some of the lakes in the northern part of the state still showed open water at Christmas and ice never exceeded 15 inches. A fairly normal spring with higher precipitation has given us normal ice out times in April, unlike the later springs of 2014 and 2015 when we had ice on many of our lakes on opening day.

What does this all mean? Well, for this opener, it means that you’ll most likely be fishing for walleye that have completed spawning in even the deepest of lakes in the North Country. The May 7 opener is the latest that the calendar will allow. This later start, coupled with the slightly earlier than normal ice outs, spells a different recipe for opening day walleye success. You will actually be finding active walleye using weed growth for feeding in many cases on the inland lakes. This is similar to last year and the opener of 2012 when we had an exceptionally early ice out and warm spring.

The success for such a situation is fairly easy to find if you know what to look for. Unlike late ice outs when walleye spawning and opening day overlap, you’ll look to abandon shallow gravel and search out softer bottoms that will hold heat and newly emerging weed growth. Or, more importantly, carry over weeds from the 2015 season that have kept their green color and continue to provide good cover and oxygen that these shallow fish demand. Also, shallow wood cover, from shoreline trees or stump fields, in reservoirs will be excellent at this time. This is a fun situation since not only will walleye respond to these types of conditions, but other game fish will be sharing the space, creating some surprises that many anglers may not be prepared for.

Last year was fun because the process of elimination led my boat to some shallow weeds that held a nice school of walleye during the middle of the day. It was sunny, high noon, and we were enjoying picking up walleye in 5 to 8 feet of water on 1/16 oz. jigs and minnows. It was fun banging away at these walleye when suddenly, a number of muskies came cruising through, giving us a show in these shallow weed beds. While muskie season does not open until the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend in our neck of the woods, it was nonetheless fun to see these giants ambling around the shallows near us. The walleye would obviously scatter at such a display, but after a short while the big fish would move on and the walleye would return to enjoy the shallow cabbage and the heat that the sun provided. This year will most likely offer those same conditions for the first few weeks of the season.

As with any opening day scenario, your preparation should start at least a couple weeks in advance, starting with your boat. The last thing you need is to have a motor or trailer problem to start the year. Think about all the equipment that you own that has moving parts. The more moving parts, the more that can go wrong with them. Also, be sure to check anything electrical. This means trailer lights, breaker panels in the boat, wiring connections for the bilge and livewell pumps and navigation lights. Safety issues are not something to take for granted and the last thing you want after a long winter of cold weather is the aggravation of broken down equipment that is easily preventable.

Spooling up those reels with new line and making sure that your reels are freshly cleaned and oiled are also part of the game. Another important thing that often gets overlooked is the condition of the drag on your reels. When a big fish decides to square off with you, is the drag going to give line at the correct rate for the line strength? Drags can lose their effectiveness over time and some reels don’t perform well after several seasons of use. Remember all the work, planning, and preparation into hooking a big fish and then having to rely on a drag that may not be what it used to be to close the deal with a big, fat walleye. Cover your bases on this and you will enjoy posing for fish pictures instead of griping to your buddy about that big one that you didn’t quite get.

After a winter of cold winds and snow, the fishing opener is like the first page of a great book that is waiting to be read. There will be many twists and turns over the next few months and the adventure is in the experience of being on the water and enjoying yourself. Remember the lessons learned from past seasons and spend some time researching new water to enjoy your 2016 adventures. The best anglers out there are always exploring and trying new things. Mixing this up with your knowledge already gained will give you some great opportunities and the memories to carry you though next winter.