Tony Roach

Mille Lacs walleye!

Guide Tony Roach say’s this opener should look a little different than the last few seasons.

Anticipation for the opening day of the walleye season is riding high as it fast approaches here in the Mille Lacs area. Fishing the past few seasons has been very good, and this year should be no exception. With the harvest season from May 15 to May 31 of one fish 21-23 inches or one over 28 inches, it should help in drawing people to the lake.

Mille Lacs will be busy

Mille Lacs Lake has always been a popular destination for opening weekend. Past years have brought crowded accesses and crowded spots as anglers vie for the prized walleye that the big lake has been so famous for.  For many anglers, the tradition of opening day may be the only time they fish all season, but that’s how important this annual get together is.

Many anglers leave on Thursday for the weekend even though the actual opener is not until Saturday – just to be sure camp is set. Campfires and comradery will be taking place all around the lake with excited people exchanging stories of years past. This year hopes to come off a little closer to normal as we were all in throes of the pandemic last year.

Night fishing

Some anglers will choose to start at midnight on Friday and take advantage of the all night angling opportunity the first weekend. The 10 p.m. night ban goes into effect on Monday, May 17, so there are three nights available to anglers. Lighted bobbers and trolling crankbaits are the two most popular techniques. This is generally done in shallower water and usually in the rocks and sand. Walleyes are naturally in a nocturnal mode in the spring as that’s when they do their spawning. So fishing can be fantastic – if you can stay awake for it.

Daytime will have anglers scattered all over the lake, and with the earlier ice out this year, fish will be found in a variety of locations, some shallow and some deeper.

Mille Lacs is classic for groups of boats all fishing in the same location. At one point, it has to start with the first boat, then someone else joins, and before you know it, there’s a bunch of boats all looking at each other and may or may not be catching fish. That is one way to do it, especially if you’re not very familiar with the lake. On the other hand, experienced anglers tend to want to find fish on their own – away from the crowds.

Local guides talk tactics

Tony Roach from Roach’s Guide Service says: “This year’s opening day should look quite a bit different than the last few seasons. The early ice out and warmer water temps should lead to more options for walleye anglers. The last few seasons, water temps were in the 40s keeping anglers tight to the shorelines pitching jigs and minnows. This year, we will see temps well into the 50s; this means the walleyes should be a little more spread out. I think the jig bite will be good in the rocks; however, the live bait rigging and bobber fishing with leeches in the 12-20 foot range should be incredible. For the night owls venturing out at midnight, I think you should see an outstanding shallow water trolling bite. It’s going to be another great season on Mille lacs lake! It’s great to see some walleye harvest opportunities for this year’s opening weekend; you can bet the ramps are going to be hopping.” Tony can be found at or 763-226-6656.

Brad Hawthorne of Hawthorne’s Guide Service says: “I love the Northland Tackle long shank fireball jig. You can fish it with a shiner or other live bait, as well as dress it with a shad style plastic and it gets the job done time and time again. The north end of the lake has it all for early season fishing with a variety of structures to fish, from rocks to emerging weeds to the classic sand. I’ll drive around with the side imaging and look for bunched up schools of fish. This time of year, they can really pack up. Once located you can pitch to them, or troll through them, with a jig. The rippin minnow is another good option as you can make it dart and let it fall imitating a dying baitfish. Even though it was a slower winter, I think it’s going to be a barn burner opener. The lake should be busy. It’s a new generation of anglers that are used to catch and release. Brad can be found at: or 652-271-8600.

Dave Estrem of Castles Resort (formerly Hunter Winfields) says: “Fish will be shallow here in Isle Bay. We’re seeing lots of perch off the dock so that’s a good sign. Shallow reefs should also provide a good bite in the evening and at night. Bobbers and leeches and trolling cranks in 7-15 feet during low light hours should be good. During the day, the sand will be holding fish as well as the first breaks and near shore reefs. Lindy rigs and live bait, jig and a minnow or plastic should be a good presentation. Slow trolling jigs work as well. Inlets and weed edges are another place that will be holding fish too. You shouldn’t have to go too far from shore to find fish here on the south end. Dave can be found at: or 320-676-1100.

Sounds like the common denominator is a jig and minnow or plastic fished in shallow to the mid-depths. The jig has been a mainstay in the early season since it was invented, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change anytime soon. Lindy rigs and bobber set-ups are another great option as well as trolling crankbaits in the low light hours.

Accesses will be busy

Public accesses will no doubtedly be packed this weekend, so be prepared for the ensuing traffic. Practice good etiquette and be ready when it’s your turn to use the ramp. Don’t use that opportunity to take the cover and the straps off - holding up the show. Another good thing to do,  prior to opener, is make sure your motor will start and your batteries are charged. With the heavy traffic at the accesses, don’t make this the first time you try out your rig.

Be safe

Make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment on board. The water is still plenty cold so wearing a personal floatation device (PFD) is a good idea as well as having a throw device and fire extinguisher handy. And be aware of all the aquatic invasive species (AIS) laws as well regarding weeds and zebra mussels and also left over water in your boat or bait containers. I’m sure there will be representatives at the accesses checking for compliance on this.

With the opener just days away there is not much time left to get ready. But if you take the time up front to ready your rig, rods and reels, it will lead to a much more pleasurable time on the water, and hopefully the big one won’t get away.

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