Frisch: Head to the border for an early opener
Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border is a very popular spring walleye fishing destination. It's popular because, as a Minnesota-South Dakota border water, it opens to the legal taking of walleyes earlier than the traditional Minnesota inland game season.
The season opens this year on April 21. The lake is also popular because it has a healthy walleye population, many of which are willing biters around the opener.
Opening day Big Stone walleyes are often in their annual spawning routine, so fishing shoreline rocks is a popular method as these fish pull up right tight to the shorelines now. On Big Stone "tight to shore" often means landing a jig right at the spot where water meets rocks. Yes, these fish will get that shallow during spring!
Artie Arndt from Artie's Bait & Tackle in Ortonville grew up fishing Big Stone and is one of the "sticks to beat" in any Big Stone walleye fishing competition. In fact, Artie and partners have teamed for two wins and two other top-five finishes in the last four Cabela's Masters Walleye Circuit (MWC) tournaments held on Big Stone.
"Landing that jig tight to shore is key during early season," Arndt offered, when asked how to catch spring Big Stone walleyes. "If you land the jig a couple feet out from shore, you're often too far from the fish."
Small jigs tipped with small fathead minnows is the key bait presentation method at this time of the year according to Arndt.
"Give me a few 1/16-ounce parakeet-colored Fire-Ball Jigs and a scoop of fatheads and I'm in business," Arndt said about opening-day tactics.
Arndt and other Big Stone experts favor fishing mid-lake and north for early season Big Stone success. As the water warms, however, the bite gets better to the south along and around the lake's islands.
"As the season progresses, I like to be fishing further south around the islands," Arndt continued. "In fact, we won the tournament the last two years in the last week of April near the islands. There may not be as many fish down there yet, but some of the big post-spawn females show up there first."
Arndt also says that the timing of spring's arrival each year also plays into the migration of the fish and their location during early season.
"An early spring often means the south end gets going sooner," Arndt said. "This year, however, I am guessing we are looking at a later ice out meaning that north end bite will probably be best for opener."
While Arndt is an expert at pitching a jig and minnow to shallow early season walleyes on Big Stone, he often uses another technique in conjunction with his jig/minnow combination. "Because each angler can use two lines on Big Stone, I often use another line rigged with a plain hook and a leech below a slip-bobber," Arndt said. "Particularly if I am in a known big fish spot, this presentation is a great way to up my odds for success, especially on big fish."
Walleyes are the main spring draw on Big Stone, but the lake also has a good population of big panfish like crappies, bluegills and perch. And, Big Stone might just be one of the Midwest's best-kept secrets when it comes to largemouth bass as the lake puts out a number of good fish in the three-to-seven-pound range every year!
Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide and co-host of the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com or follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more "fishy" stuff.