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 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 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
Voyageurs National Park has opened the Rainy Lake Ice Road as far as the Black Bay Ski Trail and is working on extending the road east to Cranberry Bay and Back. That provides a lot more access for ice fishing, or sightseeing and skiing for that matter.
As far as Ice fishing goes, the brutally cold snap kept a lot of people off the ice, but those that ventured out report the walleye bite was fair around Sand Bay and you could use a jigging spoon tipped with a minnow, or just place a minnow under a bobber and do okay.
Meanwhile, back at trails, the Park Service is working on staking and grooming all the trails in the Park, and the trails outside of the park have been well maintained by the International Voyageurs Snowmobile Club. We are getting a break from the frigid temps, so get out and enjoy.
International Falls, Rainy Lake and Ranier Convention and Visitors Bureau
Ice conditions have improved, snowmobile trails have been staked and groomed and more people are getting out on Rainy Lake. Sand Bay is the most popular fishing area with walleye hitting on jigs and minnows, or minnows on bare hooks and a bobber. Morning is the best time, and somewhere in the area of 30 feet is the right depth.
Crappie can be pulled from the crib areas around Black Bay and they are responding to smaller minnows in about 25 feet of water. You might also pull in a good sized northern pike in those areas.
Thanks to the Voyageurs National Park Association for stepping in to help pay for trail grooming in the Park, which has made snowmobile access much easier and safer from Franks Bay through Black Bay and on to Gold Portage. Ski trails have also been groomed and the Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be open so you can use the ski or snowshoe loan program this weekend.
This is also the weekend of Icebox Days so there will be a lot going on. We have most all of the events listed in our Calendar if you want to check them out.
This post was brought to you by Rainy Lake Guide Association.