What a strange year for ice off it has been. a week ago last Friday I was walking on solid ice pounding a spud bar as hard as I could and I thought there was no way the ice was going to be gone. Fast forward four days, the ice was GONE! Then lets fast forward to this past Saturday and the water temps were 52.8 when I got on the water and was up to 54.1 when I left. Then on Sunday, the surface temps were in the 60’s.
I have talked to a bunch of old timers and they all agree this is the strangest year of ice off they have ever seen. Literally in a 2 week period we went from driving on ice to driving a boat on open water on the same lake!
Well, we are 100% ice free and its going to be an epic walleye opener in the Brainerd Lakes Area.
This Weeks Fishing Report
Crappies, sunfish and perch are on the feed. When I finally got out on Saturday, the fish were in the feed mode. Just as it is almost always after ice out, if you can find areas of warmer water, you found pods of fish. I was literally finding areas where the temps were 2/10ths of a degree warmer than a few feet away and my catch rates would increase tenfold. The fish are still in their transition areas in 6-10 feet of water where there was a little bit of weeds which helps absorb the heat from the sun. A slow presentation of a tube jig under a bobber was the ticket. Big gills, crappies and some nice perch all were hitting. Longer casts sure helped as well. The fish were a little bit spooky in the calm water.
Sunday seen the same results. With the quickly changing conditions, look for crappies to start the spawning process fairly quickly.
The Pike Limits Have Changed
The first thing I have to remind everyone is the Minnesota DNR has implemented changes to the northern pike limits in the Brainerd Lakes Area. Being in the north-central zone, we can now keep 10 pike with all pike from 22-26 inches immediately released with 2 allowed over 26 inches. Pike are absolutely fabulous to eat in so many ways. Pickled, grilled, fried, deep fried, smoked. They are all awesome. If you want to learn how to clean a pike, there are a ton of ways to do it and you can find instructional videos all over youtube. I will post one in the near future on how I personally clean pike so stay tuned!
Opener is Going to Awesome!
In recent memory, 2013 and 2014 had late ice offs and the fishing was nothing short of epic. In 2013, I took out a friend and his 2 young kids and the fishing was absolutely crazy good. We started fishing at 430 and we were done with limits of pike and walleyes by 1030 and headed off to Crosby to catch some trout.
The biggest mistake I noticed people doing was fishing too deep. Sure there will be fish off the edges but most fish are going to be shallow putting the feed bag on in the warmer water to kick start their metabolism to recover from the spawn. Fish will be in tight schools around pods of the spawning spottails and if you can narrow those down, you will increase your catch rates.
Follow the wind. This time of the year, the surface water warms up fast and as the wind blows, it pushes the warm surface water towards the wind blown shore line. The windward side will be several degrees warmer Than the leeward side as the lake current pushes the deeper water back that way. We found fish within feet of the shorelines in these areas. We casted plastics and jerk baits. We stayed with natural looking colors. As the day moved into the early morning, we followed he fish out to 8-10 feet and long lined plain lead head jigs with spot tails.
In 2014, we followed the same patterns as in 2013 and had just as good of success. The only change was, we trolled the same areas using planer boards to get close to shore pulling small minnow baits 10-15 feet behind the small board at 1.1 mph. We took a break after a few hours and headed into the channels of Gull to fish some bluegills and crappies. The action was fast and furious. We headed back out to the main lake for the afternoon trolling off the shoreline break around weed areas we had previously found in past years. The pike action was about as fast as you could get your crank bait behind the boat. As we got to dusk, we moved to the shoreline areas we caught fish previously and began casting to spots on the spots with rattling jerkbaits. If you have never casted for walleyes before, I suggest giving it a try. The hits are amazingly hard and a walleye will give you a good fight!
I totally see the walleyes being in very skinny water. The lake is going to be crowded with everyone having some serious cabin fever and the want to get out and stretch some line. Be courteous to others and give them some room. Remember when trolling, always move to your right when encountering another boat. It is the correct navigation and it keeps everyone happy and everyone fair in their trolling presentations.
Rod Setups for Opener
There are a million ways to skin cat and many will be doing different things than me but I am a guy that is always going to be prepared for whatever the day will bring for us. When I am casting hair jigs, plastics, jerk baits and ripping baits. My rod of choice is a 7 foot medium light rod with a reel filled with 3 pound diameter 8 pound super line with a 6 foot 15 pound fluorocarbon leader. The big thing is making long casts to get away from the boat and the super line gives you that ability.
We use the same set up for trolling directly behind the boat. The superfine gives you direct contact with the lure and allows you to feel if you get fouled up from some weeds and allows you to give some hard jerks to free the lure of the weeds so you do not have to reel in to free the lure of weeds.
For trolling planer boards, I spool my line counters and bait casters with 12 pound mono. I use a swivel and a 4 foot leader of 15 pound fluorocarbon. I have 9 foot trolling rods in a medium action with moderate tip for the outside rods and I use 7 foot medium action with a moderate tip for the inside rods. It is hard to get planer boards to stick to a super line. The slippery coating makes it difficult to keep the board in place.
I am always prepared for fishing off the edge of the break. My rigging rods are 7 foot medium light action rods with a fast tip. The reels are spooled with 8 pound mono. I use a very long leader, anywhere from 8-12 feet with 6 pound fluorocarbon. I tend to use a #6 octopus hook for the spottails. My jig rods are a 6 foot 3 inch medium rod with an extra fast tip. I love the extra fast tip. I love the light tip that will pick up the slightest bump. My jig rods are set up with 3/8 super line with a 4 foot leader of 15 pound fluorocarbon.
I have slip bobber rods set up for a just in case moment. I generally do not bobber fish during opener because I believe covering water and finding active schools is more effective but I do have rods set up and ready. I use 4/10 super line on a 7 food medium action rod with a fast tip. I have a #7 swivel with 4 feet of 6 pound fluorocarbon under.
I love a long rod for panfish. Not only does it give you a great fight but it also give you the whipping ability to cast long distances. I use a 7 foot ultralight with a reel filled with 1/5 super line with a 6 foot 6 pound mono leader. This gives you the chance to fish panfish in so many ways. Casting and swimming, set bobber or slip bobber.
Lures for Opener
I am going to bring every lure I have in my arsenal for walleyes. My main lures are #4 to #5 Salmo Hornets both in original and rattling, rattling suspending jerk baits, #5 shad raps both in shallow and deep runners, and #13 original raps. For colors, I have everything under the sun but in previous years, purples, blues, perch and natural colors all seem to out perform brighter colors unless you are just targeting pike then I say the brighter the better! The Salmo Sting is a new lure on the market that I got to play with a little bit last year. The rattles are amazing and I can’t wait to give it a shot. I have no doubt this will be a huge addition to my lure library.
As for plastics, I am filled up with rib worms, 3 inch twister tails, minnow bodies, paddle tails. I like a larger hook for plastics so I have used the Big John jigs but this year I will be using the new Clam Pro Tackle Tg. The hook is stout and the hooking ability using plastics will be a serious game changer.
As for ripping baits, Rippin Raps, zip lures, jigging raps, and the Salmo Zipper are all ready to go.
For panfish, I am going to bring all my ice fishing lures and small jigs. Plastics will be huge this year but don’t forget your #6 gold Aberdeen hooks. So many times as fishermen, I think we overthink things and sometimes the KISS method is the best. I am guilty of overthinking things and I have to revert to Keep It Simple Stupid! Every year, a gold hook under a bobber tipped with a minnow, leech, crawler or waxies will outperform many of the fancy new lures on the market today.
Lets all have a fun and safe opener. Problems tend to happen before the boat is launched. Please do yourself and everyone a favor and make sure your boat is running before you launch on opener. Each access is going to be busy. Don’t be the one holding up people from getting out on the water. I have seen some very heated arguments on opener due to someone blocking the access. Of course issues happen but we all need to be courteous. Have your boat ready to go before you get to the launch. Park in the parking lot, get your tarp off, your straps off and whatever else you need to do before getting in line to launch your boat. It is a busy time of the year and people are anxious.
Be courteous of other fishermen. The lakes are going to be full and no matter what, there is plenty of water for everyone. One thing you will never see me do is move in on someone that is out fishing me. I will take a mental note on what he or she is doing and figure out how I can replicate it. That is how you learn as a fisherman. Have courtesy towards those that have the fish wired. Fish are spooky this time of the year. By moving in on someone, not only will you ruin a spot for someone but it will ruin the spot for you. Just try figure out how you can do exactly what they are doing and increase your catch rates.
Lets make this year the best opener ever. Every fish species will be chomping!
My team of guides have some openings this spring, so give us a call.
Nate Berg Fishing Guides