Article by Ron Kruger Aug 1, 2017
At the top of Minnesota, a gem of a fishery awaits anglers willing to ply cold, early-season water temperatures and unpredictable weather for the Minnesota Fishing Opener on May 13. This vast body of water is an expanse of 275,000 acres, straddling the northern border with Ontario and features multi-species action.
While huge ice-out crappies lure anglers to kick off the open-water season, it’s the primary gamefish species—walleyes, smallmouths, pike—that offer the greatest temptation to explore Rainy Lake in mid-May.
This popular tourism destination attracts families and fishermen in all seasons, with the height of summer providing a water-based playground for fishing, water sports, houseboating or simply enjoying quality time in the Minnesota’s Northwoods.
The resorts here can fill up early for peak dates, so advance planning and research is recommended. However, because mid-May weather in northern Minnesota delivers a potential mixed bag, you can usually find last-minute accommodations or rent a houseboat to explore this waterway during the early season. Rainy Lake is home to Voyageur’s National Park, meaning you’ll encounter a setting that feels mostly pristine and beautiful. But it’s the fishing action that is the main attraction...
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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 road 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 DRN 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 you 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