Anglers planning a trip to the beautiful Rainy River area this year would be wise to buy a Sturgeon tag when they purchase their fishing license just in case they catch the next record. The Sturgeon population has thrived to the point that many are caught by Walleye anglers by accident! Without a Sturgeon tag the only option is to take a quick photo and release what might be the next state record. In fact, the state record Sturgeon is still in the waters of Rainy River as it was released after the duel was won by Jack Burke from Stillwater on May 4, 2018. That monster has most likely put on a little more weight from the approximate 105 pounds it weighed last year. If you are planning to catch a Sturgeon on purpose, it is recommended to use a circle hook to allow for easy release so others can enjoy the experience of landing one of the most iconic and amazing fresh water fish in the world.
(Photo by Full Throttle Guiding)
Rainy Lake is one of the last lakes in the country to thaw, which means that, come spring, everyone has a serious case of ice-out fever that reaches its peak May 12 with the Minnesota fishing opener. Although this is one of the best times to fish for most species, the primary game is walleye, Minnesota’s state fish. After a long winter and the rigors of spawning, they’ve worked up an appetite and are looking for a meal. Here’s all you need to know to make the most of this exciting weekend on Rainy Lake.
Everyone 16 years and older must have a fishing license issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A variety of both Minnesota resident and non-resident fishing licenses are available, such as 24-hour, 72-hour, three-year, family and more. You can purchase licenses from most bait shops, by phone at 1-888-MN-LICEN (665-4236), or online at licenses.dnr.state.mn.us. Once you are licensed, be sure to read the state’s fishing regulations, which include limits on the number and size of fish you can keep.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a successful – and fun – opening weekend. You’ll need: a spinning rod and reel; monofilament line; a variety of jigs ranging from 3/8 - 1/8 ounce; sliding sinker rigs (also called "Lindy" rigs); slip bobber rigs and a tackle box with tools like clippers and scissors and extra spools. Perhaps the most important gear for spring fishing is warm and water-proof clothing. Being comfortable on the water can ensure a happy trip.
To maximize your chances of catching your limit, stay shallow. Spring walleye fishing is most often successful in 6-18 feet of water. In fact, plenty of early anglers catch walleye off the dock or from shore at night. Other locations to try include river mouths, areas with current, rocky shorelines with emerging weed lines and windward shores as opposed to leeward. And, once you catch one, remember that walleyes school, so more are likely lurking. If you prefer a more scientific approach, check out the DNR website’s Lake Finder feature, which provides species-specific fish survey results and stocking reports by lake.
Bait and Technique
During this time of year, angling experts recommend using either jigs or Lindy rigs tipped with live bait, preferably minnows. The best piece of advice is to think slow: because the water is cold, fish aren’t moving very fast, so neither should bait. Jigging is the most common technique for catching walleye this time of year. Keep your line vertical into the water (hanging straight down). Once the bait has dropped to the bottom, jerk or lift it up a couple inches before letting it drop again. This motion can take some practice, and you may have to try some different variations to see what the fish are attracted to.
Professional and amateur anglers alike promote the practice of catch and release, which ensures the future of fishing in Minnesota. Be sure to use release methods that avoid internal damage caused by hooks, stress and being pulled from deep water.
With all of the things that go into make a successful day in the boat, perhaps the most important are a sense of adventure and patience. Watch what other anglers are doing, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what is working for them. Most will be happy to share their advice, if not the location of their secret fishing hole.
Minnesota Fishing Facts
Do you have any fishing opener tips or tricks that we missed? Let us know in the comments down below!
Plan your fishing trip on Rainy Lake
Exploring Rainy River
The Rainy River forms part of the border between Minnesota and Ontario and is a haven for anglers and boaters of all stripes. Perhaps best known for fishing, the river is one of the world’s top destinations for premiere walleye fishing each spring and is also home to other game fish. In addition to anglers, canoers and kayakers enjoy Rainy River’s numerous access points along its 85-mile route, and its many resorts provide a welcome rest regardless of the day’s activities.
Flowing from approximately the west end of Rainy Lake and the communities of International Falls, MN and Fort Frances, ON, the river travels west-northwest to Baudette, MN, and Rainy River, ON, then enters Four Mile Bay on Lake of the Woods.
Rainy River’s watershed is largely forested and composed of peatland and bogs that were part of Lake Agassiz 10,000 years ago. In the past, its waters were used by fur traders, lumber mills and commercial fishing boats.
Rainy River is counted among the finest fishing destinations in America. Each spring, resident walleyes flood the waterway, offering anglers the chance to land a “lunker.” The early fishing season runs approximately early March through mid-April (check the MN DNR website for exact dates each year). Though walleye is the river’s premier gamefish species, anglers also target sturgeon, smallmouth bass and northern pike. Notable Rainy River catches include a 35.1-inch walleye (released) and a 100-plus pound sturgeon (also released).
Because Rainy River is between the U.S. and Canada, anglers who plan to fish the Canadian side of the river must have a valid Ontario fishing license, as well as an Outdoors Card and a Remote Area Border Crossing permit.
U.S. Rainy River Access Points
Multiple access points mean options abound for exploring Rainy River. Camping is not allowed at the following boat launch sites unless otherwise noted.