A true Whitefish Chain holiday approaches: Fishing Opener. On May 14 the walleye season opens, and the outlook for fishing is good.
Marc Bacigalupi is the area supervisor for the Brainerd Fisheries office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He and his team recently finished harvesting walleye eggs where the Pine River meets the Whitefish Chain. He said that the team saw a good walleye population at the egg take, though that’s not always representative of the entire chain. What he and his colleagues did notice was a lot of younger female walleye, around five or six years old, showing up to spawn. Having these “new recruits” is a good sign for the population, Bacigalupi said.
The early ice-out and warm spring also bode well for a good fishing opener, Bacigalupi said. And based off last year’s fish survey, “The walleye population is as good as ever.”
It’s not often that Bacigalupi gets to fish on opener (usually his job requires that he work), but he says that if he had a lake to choose for opener, he’d pick Upper or Middle Whitefish.
Bacigalupi's not alone. John Blong, of Brainerd Guide Service, spends a lot of time on the Whitefish Chain. “There’s a great catch of walleyes up there,” he said of the chain.
Because of its large size, the Whitefish Chain takes longer to warm up than other lakes. That means the walleye are generally hanging out in shallower areas near areas with current, Blong said. These areas include the northwest corner of the chain, where the Pine River enters the reservoir, and near the Wharf at the channel between Cross and Rush lakes.
“They’ve either got spawning on their mind or food,” Blong said. The walleye will have recently been spawning in the areas of the chain with current, and after that they’ll move to the nearest forage, often at a break (or drop off). Blong said walleye will follow the spottail shiners, which finish spawning just after the walleye. This will keep the walleye near areas with current. As the spottail shiners drop out of the current from spawning, the walleye are waiting-- and they’ll wait there until their food source is gone or leaves. They don’t know how big they are or how deep of water they’re in; they just know that they’re in the weeds or near the weeds in case they need to hide.
Blong recommends fishing for walleye in the early morning or late evening, when the light is coming or going. This makes it easier to sneak up on the fish, whereas direct sunlight can make it easy for walleye to see incoming boats. During the day, Blong said, go after crappie and wait until the time is right for walleye.
Enjoy fishing opener on the chain, boat safely, and best of luck!