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Getting Ready for the Walleye Opener

Jeff Gustafson holds up a huge walleye! • Credit: Jeff Gustafson
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Getting Ready for the Walleye Opener

A time everyone looks forward to!

Each year the walleye season opener takes place on the third Saturday in May, attracting many anglers to the region that enjoy catching walleyes.

When it comes to fishing across Northwest Ontario’s Sunset Country Region, no other species of fish receives as much attention from anglers as walleyes do, and for good reason. We have some of the best fisheries in the world for these fine-tasting critters. 100-plus fish days are common and the shot at a big fish over eight pounds is possible on most bodies of water all season long. 

Each year the walleye season opener takes place on the third Saturday in May across Northern Ontario, attracting many anglers who enjoy catching walleyes to the region. 

 Jay Samsal holds up a nice walleye!

Let’s take a look at how to prepare for the upcoming walleye opener by loading your boat with all of the tools and tackle that you’ll need, as well as some details on where to look for walleyes on opening day this year.  

Getting the Boat Ready

Many anglers who visit Northwest Ontario bring their own boats to the region to fish out of, which is fine. If you don’t want to bring a boat, there are many resorts that offer boats for rent or boats with guides, so all you have to do is show up with a fishing rod. If you do want to bring your own boat, there are a few things you need to have in your possession to comply with our provincial regulations.

  • Paddles
  • Life jackets for each person onboard the vessel
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Bailing can
  • Whistle
  • Buoyant heaving line (15 meters)
  • Flashlight

Once you have all of the required safety equipment in the boat, it’s time to make sure you have all of the tools that you need for fishing. I always pack a small tool box in my boat with some kind of fire starter, batteries, screwdrivers, zip-ties, tape, electrical connectors, as well as some screws, nuts, and bolts, amongst a few other things, so that I’m able to fix most issues that could arise on the water.  

Some of the fishing tools that I can’t live without include:

  • Pliers
  • Fillet Knife
  • Scissors for cutting line
  • A hook file
  • Side cutters (in case I have to cut a hook)
  • First Aid Kit
You can catch both eaters and trophy walleye!

Going Walleye Fishing

When it comes to choosing your fishing location and picking tackle, the general rule for opening weekend is you are likely going to be fishing shallow, since walleyes should be just finishing up their shallow, spring spawning ritual.  

Walleyes prefer to spawn in whatever moving water they can find if it is available.  Creeks, rivers and channels are all likely locations. On some bodies of water that lack current or moving water, walleyes will spawn on sandy shoreline typically.

 A quick look at a map can usually reveal likely spawning locations, then it's up to the angler to look for nearby fishing locations where they can make contact with fish. After spawning, walleyes usually stick around for at least a couple of weeks before beginning a migration to main lake areas, where they will spend much of the summer. 

Fishing in shallow bays where creeks or rivers flow into a lake is always a good bet, especially if you are able to find some fresh, green weeds. Windblown shoreline, points and small coves are all high percentage areas in these bays. Walleyes are usually feeding during this post-spawn period as they recover for the rigours of spawning so fishing is good once you find fish.  

Other high percentage fishing locations can be deep holes in areas with a lot of current, fishing around beaches (walleyes love sand, especially early in the year) and shallow humps that are not too far out in the main basin areas.  

Tackle selection is pretty simple early in the year as well. For the most part, you can visit just about any body of water across Northwestern Ontario and catch all the walleyes you want on a simple 1/8-¼ ounce jig tipped with either live bait or some sort of soft plastic. 

While trolling with spinner rigs and in some situations, crank baits can help you find fish fast and potentially select for larger walleyes; fishing with jigs is a surefire way to catch a bunch of fish. 

Jeff likes to use a ¼ ounce jig tipped with a three-inch soft plastic minnow most of the time.

I have hundreds of days walleye fishing in May over the years, both fun fishing and guiding and I typically like to use a quarter-ounce jig tipped with a three-inch soft plastic minnow most of the time. I like the plastic because I can cover water with it a little more efficiently and rip it through the weeds when I find them. So many of today’s plastics are scented and lifelike, so they are almost as good as the real thing. When faced with tough fishing because of a cold front or high pressure, I’ll sometimes resort to using a live minnow on my jig to get a few more bites.  

The shore lunch is a highlight of the trip for many visiting anglers.

On many lakes across the region, the limit is four walleye per person, with one allowed to be greater than 18 inches in length. Anglers should be aware that there are many lake specific regulations in effect across the region with respect to walleyes, so they should do a little bit of research on the waters they are visiting before they go fishing.  One advantage to staying at one of the many resorts or fish camps is that the operators will be able to let you know what all of the rules and regulations are for the body of water that you’ll be fishing. You can download a copy of the Ontario fishing regulations here.

Opening day of walleye season is coming up soon, so get your boat and equipment ready to go and make plans to visit us here in Sunset Country if you want to catch a bunch of fish and have some fun!  

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