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Getting jiggy on Opening Day

Ryan Haines nabbed this walleye in Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Getting jiggy on Opening Day

Why walleye opener in always so interesting

Jigs are the most versatile lures in your walleye tackle box.

This coming weekend, the third Saturday in May, marks the opening of the walleye season across the huge expanse of Northern Ontario and saying that anglers are likely going to find the conditions to be "abnormal" is an understatement.

Consider the difference a year makes.

At this time last season, I had been fishing out of the boat for a month-and-a-half. But this year, I launched it into my Northwestern Ontario home waters of Lake of the Woods for the first time yesterday.

And you're not going to believe this. I had to follow the Canadian Coast Guard vessel through Devil's Gap, as it broke the floating pack ice and opened up a trail.

A few days earlier, I met friend Rob Horley, who owns The Sanctuary Resort in Whitefish Bay and Rob told me he had been out ice fishing for lake trout the previous day in an airboat.

Bulking up your jig in the spring can pay Ontario walleye dividends. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

So, the question on nearly every angler's mind right now is what is in store for Saturday?

I am predicting most lakes will be finally ice-free. But, we're going to find frigid water temperatures and the walleyes in the pre-spawn / early spawn phase of the season, which is going to make for some interesting fishing.

I say "interesting" because instead of having food on their minds, as is normally the case, the fish this year are going to be preoccupied with more pressing matters. And with the water temperatures hovering between 38˚F and 42˚F (4˚C to 6˚) anglers are likely going to find the walleyes to be much more lethargic, relating to the bottom in deeper water.

As a result, I am betting that slow and steady is going to win the walleye race come opening day and few lures are better equipped to tame these conditions than the good old lead-headed jig.

As a matter of fact, it is unlikely you could create a better set of conditions to catch walleye using jigs than what you are probably going to find over the next couple of weeks.

How's that for turning a negative into a positive?

But it is true because jigs are the most versatile lures in your walleye tackle box. It's why anglers have caught more walleyes vertically jigging and casting lead-heads than all other presentations combined.

And while jigs may be the closest thing, we have in our tackle boxes, to a universal walleye catcher, it is in the spring -- particularly like the one we're currently experiencing -- that they shine.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Indeed, when spring arrives late and the water is icy cold and the sluggish fish are relating to the edges of current, bigger and heavier 3/8-ounce to 3/4-ounce jigs are perfect for attracting and triggering walleyes holding within inches of the bottom.

Next week, or the week after, on the other hand, we're likely to find the fish have spawned and migrated into nearby shallow bays and shorelines. That is the time we can simply scale back and pitch lighter 1/16-ounce to 1/4-ounce jigs into the warm water and pick off much hungrier and more aggressive 'eyes.

Something else to consider this Opening Day: walleye are colour conscious favouring hues in the orange, yellow, red and green parts of the spectrum. That is less important when the fish are hungry and prepared to close the distance between themselves and your lure in a hurry. But when they're lackadaisical, as we're likely to find them now, every small detail is magnified.

So, keep these colours in mind when you pick your jig, and if you can't decide what hue to select, do what I do and choose one that is multi-hued and offers a splash of each of the top picks.

Now, what do we dress our jig with to best catch shorelunch on the weekend? It is another reason jigs are so popular with walleye anglers. You can tailor your presentation so many different ways, using so many different live baits and soft plastic dressings.

Author Gord Pyzer with a trophy Ontario walleye caught by slowing down and carefully presenting a jig to the fish. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

When the water is cold, as we going to find it, live bait gets the nod with most anglers. And as a general rule, the colder the water is, the more minnows prevail. Leeches, on the other hand, tend to triumph after the water warm ups in a few weeks, while crawlers reign supreme throughout the summer.

Still, I've seen times when leeches and crawlers have surprised me with excellent catches in cold water, so I normally have all three options in the boat and let the fish decide what they want at any particular time.

Soft scented plastics,like the Exude leech Mark Stiffel used on his jig to catch this beautiful Northeastern Ontario, Kesagami Lake walleye are often the ticket in the spring. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

And speaking about letting the walleyes decide what they want to eat for dinner, don't discount soft plastic grubs, worms and minnows, especially the ones that are impregnated with walleye-attracting scent.

Indeed, a trick employed by a lot of the professional walleye anglers I know, is to bulk up their jigs by combining scented soft plastics baits with the real thing.

They usually start by skewering a 3- or 4- inch soft plastic minnow onto their jig, finishing it off by lightly lip hooking a lively minnow. The bigger, bulkier offering represents the best of all possible worlds for the walleyes, with the added benefit of action, flavour and aroma.

Try it this weekend, when the walleye season opens across Northern Ontario and I am betting those fish will never taste better when you light the shorelunch fire at noon.

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