By Steve Weisman
It’s almost show time!
The time is drawing nearer and nearer. The Annual Great Walleye Weekend is just around the corner. This year will be the 34th Annual Great Walleye Weekend, May 7 and 8. This two-day fishing tournament brings thousands of anglers to the Iowa Great Lakes to see if they can catch one of the specially tagged walleye.
This year’s event includes an increase in the number of tagged walleyes to 10 versus the normal 6-tagged walleyes. Plus, the grand prize for this year is $34,000 to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the tournament.
In addition to the tagged walleyes, there are also prizes from sponsors Pure Fishing and Fisherman’s Factory Outlet for the heaviest stringer of three walleye, heaviest northern pike, heaviest stringer of five panfish and heaviest stringer of 10 bullhead.
To enter the Walleye Weekend contest, the cost is $25 for individuals 16 years of age and older and $15 for anglers 15 and under. Anglers can also register ($15) for an extended contest that runs to September 1, 2016.
Registration forms are available online at www.okobojichamber.com, Fisherman’s Factory Outlet, Kabele’s Trading Post, Oh Shucks, Pioneer Beach, Stan’s Bait & Tackle, and at the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce office in Arnolds Park. For more information regarding the 34th Annual Walleye Weekend, please visit www.okobojichamber.com or call (712) 332-2107.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, for the second consecutive year, Great Lakes Marine Service and Sales (www.greatlakesmarineservice.biz) will be hosting the Kick-Off Dinner and Seminars Friday, May 6 from 5-9 p.m., the Kick-off Dinner and Seminars will be held at the Dickinson County Expo Building, Cost will be $25, which includes a catered meal and seminars by Brian Bashore and Brian Fowlds, two accomplished walleye tournament anglers and guides, who were well received at their seminars a year ago.
People planning on attending should pre-register at being taken at Great Lakes Marine Service & Sales (located just east of Pizza Ranch on HWY 9) or go to https://walleyeweekendkickoff.eventbrite.com. For more information, give Shane and Christa a call at (712) 336-3822.
So, what will the fishing be like?
This is the first time in quite a few years that we have running water moving through our lakes. As a matter of fact, water began going over the spillway on Big Spirit in early winter and hasn’t stopped since. Tiles are running, so areas where water is running in or there is a current will definitely attract the walleyes.
On Big Spirit such areas include Reeds Run, Buffalo Run and the Foot Bridge, while on East Okoboji, good running water is located at the north end of the lake out from the hatchery. The bridge areas throughout the Okoboji chain will all have current, plus the Trestle area is good.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the waters are again really clear, which means the daytime bite for walleyes might be pretty tough. It’s difficult to fish rock piles and structure in the daylight when you can count the rocks and boulders below you!
So, you know the best bite will probably be the evening and after dark. Of course, none of this happens until 12:01 on Saturday morning. Depending upon the weather and wind, the lakes will be lit up with boats and anglers fishing for walleyes. A lot of these anglers will be long lining crankbaits along the shorelines and out from the flowing water and current areas.
At the same time, lights will be on at the end of docks, as anglers cast crankbaits, twisters and jigs, along with lighted slip bobber outfits rigged with minnows, shiners or leeches.
Midnight to daylight can be a long time depending upon the weather conditions and if the walleyes cooperate.
By daylight on Saturday, the lakes will be filled with boats. As mentioned earlier, sometimes the really clear water makes the daylight bite tough. Other times, the ‘eyes will be on a bite. A really go-to bait on Big Spirit (if you can find them or if bait shops have them) is the spot-tail shiner. They can be like candy!
After observing the Spirit Lake Hatchery in April, we again know that the broodstock on the Iowa Great Lakes is healthy. We also know that there is an abundance of slot fish (17-22 inchers). According to DNR fisheries biologists, the 17-22 inch slot limit has helped make the walleye population even stronger and helped to increase the average overall size of the fish.
However, part of the frustration, especially last year, was not being about to catch many of those 14-16 inch fish. Lots and lots of slot fish and fish over the slot, and then a lot of walleyes in the 8-12 inch range. My hope is that these fish will have grown to the point where we now have more in the 14-15 inch range.
The baitfish, especially the spottail shiners, are in excellent shape. Add to this a huge year class of perch fingerlings, and it’s no wonder that the walleyes on Big Spirit are fat! If you ice fished Big Spirit this winter, you know what I mean about giant schools of shiners and tiny perch. At the same time, there are also lots of tiny perch and bluegills (flats) on the Okoboji chain, so food is plentiful there, too.
Walleyes are the magnet for the opener, but don’t forget all of the other fish that might be more willing to bite: bluegills, crappies, perch, bullheads, catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and northern pike. If we only had the time to target each of them…oh well. There’s something for everybody!
If you are looking for a little fishing information, check with local bait shops such as Oh Shucks Bait and Tackle on the southwest side of West Okoboji, Stan’s Bait Shop on the north edge of Milford, Kabele’s Trading Post and Fisherman’s Factory Outlet all in the town of Spirit Lake.