One of my favorite times of the year to fish walleyes is during the spring shiner bite. Of course, it often coincides with the first few weeks of the Minnesota Walleye Fishing season; which also gets me pretty excited. What makes this short period so special is the fact that walleyes love dining on shiners–which means predictably good fishing.
First of all, which shiners I am referring to? I am talking about spottail shiners that are abundant in northern waters. You can recognize them by their silvery sides and distinct spot on the base of their tails. Walleyes love to eat them. Don’t be confused by creek shiners or golden shiners. Side-by-side, spottails will out produce the others at this time of year.
In early to late spring, depending on water temperature, spottail shiners spawn in creeks and on shorelines near creek inlets. Wherever you find them, hungry walleyes are sure to be nearby.
Bait shops carry spottails for only a short time in the early season because they are difficult to keep alive. Once they quit running in creeks, they are also difficult to catch. They tend to work best soon after they are caught.
My friends and I prefer to catch our own. If fact, we enjoy “minnow-ing” almost as much as fishing. Good creeks are “best kept secrets.” It is hard to find creeks that don’t get harvested by bait dealers. Once you do find shiners, they are difficult to catch. Shiners are very quick and shy of nets. We use seine nets and chest waders. It works best to have at least three people–two to handle the seine, and one as a chaser. Typically, we must navigate swift current to get to them. Expect to get wet.
Ok, back to fishing the shiner bite. At night, walleyes will follow shiners right up to shore. Many anglers catch walleyes from docks or by casting to the shoreline from a boat. The best areas are near creek inlets or culverts with water running into the lake. Shorelines with the wind blowing into them can be awesome if you can keep the boat out away.
Rapala® Minnow Raps® are my preferred baits at night. Other small shallow running crankbaits work as well. The big key is to be very quiet. Once spooked, the minnows will leave, and may not return anytime soon. The predators will leave with them.
Night fishing can be frustrating without good lighting. I use an LED light that clips to my cap. Many LED lights have both white and red light switches. Red LED light doesn’t seem to draw as many bugs.
Daylight hours are my preference. In lakes that have emerging cabbage weed growth, the shiners will hang out in the weeds during the day. Walleyes will cruise the weeds looking for schools of shiners. I have caught walleyes in very clear shallow water, during bright daylight hours, when shiners are spawning. Many times I just use my Polarized Glasses to visually locate walleyes. I look for small openings, or pockets formed by gravel or rocks inside the weeds, then cast a small jig with a Berkley Gulp® Alive™ minnow, or Northland® Mimic Minnow® (Shad Tail, Shiner Tail, or Swim Shiner) into the openings. Soft plastics work great in these situations and don’t fly off the jig as easily as minnows. Often, I will switch to a slip bobber rig, once I find the walleyes.
Some anglers prefer to long line leeches, shiners, or crawlers over the top of the weeds. Long lining involves trolling with small split shot weights and a long line, up to 100 feet, to get your bait away from the boat to catch walleyes that may be spooked in the shallow water.
In deeper weeds, I prefer livebait rigging, especially with a lively shiner. Again, hard gravel areas that form inside pockets in the weeds are the best. A lively shiner will telegraph back to you when a walleye is chasing it. Walleyes will suck a shiner right down. There is no reason to delay setting the hook. When I feel any sort of tap, I set immediately.
Book a Guide Trip during May. You won’t be disappointed.