Written By: Joseph Friedrichs
The Minnesota Fishing Opener is Saturday, May 11, and spring is an extraordinary time for fishing along the Gunflint Trail. Our home waters on Gunflint Lake offer an excellent chance for two prized species in the spring: lake trout and walleye.
Let’s start with walleye, and please keep in mind there are some seasonal closures for fishing on Gunflint Lake to protect walleye spawning habitat. Most noteworthy from our location is the closing of the Cross River (an inlet to Gunflint Lake) from the Gunflint Trail to Gunflint Lake. This is closed for fishing through May 24.
When it comes to fishing early-season walleye along the Gunflint Trail, we like to stick shallow. Walleye will typically spawn in early to mid-May, and then leave the spawning area and head out to near-shore or mid-lake reefs and points. We suggest targeting walleye in water ranging from 2 ft. to 15 ft. deep. If you can find a gravel bottom on some of the border lakes, including Gunflint Lake, target that as well.
At this time of year, we typically fish with jigs tipped with a minnow or leech, floating jig heads that are also tipped with minnows or leeches, lindy rigs with bare hooks and minnows, or a slip bobber setup with a Beaver Flick, live bait and a sinker. A Beaver Flick is a patented hook and spinner blade made and sold in Grand Marais at the Beaver House bait shop.
For a chance to hook either a lake trout or a walleye, try trolling with Rapalas. We use a perch colored tail dancer Rapala, or a the traditional black and gray original model. Trolling with raps is a very effective way to cover ground, locate fish and then potentially switch to a live-bait setup. In the spring there is nothing wrong with being active in your approach and keeping an open mind to dropping anchor once you find the fish.
To focus on lake trout, try casting or slowly trolling with blue and silver Little Cleo spoons. The 2/5 oz. or 1/2 oz. size spoons work most effectively, but larger spoons are worth tying on as well.
In addition to walleye and lake trout, northern pike are aggressive feeders in the spring. Don’t be surprised if a pike grabs hold of any of the aforementioned methods we described for chasing lake trout and walleye. During a slow stretch in the middle of the day, we sometimes target pike by tossing large spoons in shallow bays. Don’t forget to put on a steel leader if you give this a go, as many valuable lures are known to fall victim to spring pike near the Gunflint Trail.
Fishing pressure picks up around Memorial Day Weekend, so if you’re looking to get out in front of the crowds, we suggest making a trip to the Gunflint Trail anytime between May 11 and Memorial Day. In our opinion, some of the best fishing for lake trout and walleye happens in this short window. And don’t forget to dress warm!