Big Stone Lake Gives Walleye Chasers a Head Start

Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota-South Dakota border is a very popular walleye-fishing destination in spring.

This is “border water,” meaning it opens to the legal taking of gamefish, like walleyes, earlier than the traditional Minnesota inland game season, which opened late April. The lake is also full of walleyes of all sizes, so not only can early-spring anglers scratch their fishing itch, but also the odds of finding some cooperative walleyes is pretty good.

Opening-day walleyes are often in the spawning mode. So fishing shoreline rocks is a popular method, as these fish pull up tight to the shorelines now. “Tight to the shorelines” means landing your jig right at the spot where the water meets the rocks.

Artie Arndt from Artie’s Bait & Tackle grew up fishing Big Stone and is one of the “sticks to beat” in any Big Stone walleye fishing competition. He has an impressive resume when it comes to tournaments and walleye league events here and has tips on catching spring walleyes.

“Landing that jig tight to shore is key during early season,” Arndt said. “If you land the jig a couple feet out from shore, you’re often too far from the fish.”

Small jigs tipped with small minnows are the key this time of year here. The ever-popular 1/16-ounce Fire-Ball Jig tipped with a fathead get lots of play when pitching to shallow walleyes.

“Give me a few 1/16-ounce, parakeet-colored Fire-Balls and a scoop of fatheads, and I’m in business,” Arndt said, regarding his bait preferences on opening day.

Most Big Stone experts like Arndt favor fishing mid-lake areas and north and tight to shore for early-season success. As the water warms, however, the bite gets better to the south along and around the lake’s islands, and, the fish head deeper as well.

“By mid-May—and maybe earlier this year—I like to be fishing farther south around the islands,” Arndt said. “During low light or when the wind blows, I still get tight to the rocks. But during midday, fishing deeper and even into the basin, pulling spinners or crankbaits starts to produce big catches too.”

When Arndt refers to “the basin” he is talking about the 12- to 16-foot depths out from the shore, some of Big Stone’s deepest waters.

This region had an unusually early ice-out this year, so Arndt feels that may be a wild card.                 “Typically that basin bite really goes mid-May, but who knows? Maybe we will see it in early May this year.”

Big Stone’s booming walleye fishery has been noticed by the competitive angling crowd too, as the popular Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit made another stop in Ortonville (the lake’s headwaters) last month. In addition to several local tournaments, the AIM Weekend Walleye Series is also holding a Big Stone event on May 22.

Walleyes are the main draw during spring and summer, but the lake also has a good population of big bluegills and crappies, as well as an emerging largemouth bass population. And during winter, Big Stone’s perch attract anglers from all across the Midwest.

To learn more about all things Big Stone, visit the Big Stone Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at To get fishing reports, stop at Artie’s Bait & Tackle in Ortonville or give them a call at 320- 839-2480.

Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide and co-host of the popular “Fishing the Midwest” television series. Learn more by visiting or following “Fishing the Midwest” on Facebook.