At last word, the ice in the Little Fork River had pushed north to White's Bridge just outside of Littlefork. That means it will push into the Rainy River very soon, and the Big Fork River will do the same. When the Forks break out, water clarity in Rainy River drops and there will be debris and ice floes to dodge. That usually means a bit less fishing pressure for a few days.
Meanwhile, ramps on the Rainy have been busy and word is the walleye fishing is very good. This spring, it is a catch-and-release extended walleye season on Rainy River, but you can still keep some fish.
Northern Pike, crappie and smallmouth bass seasons are open continuous on our border waters. On Rainy River, all northern pike between 30 and 40 inches must be released immediately. You can keep a total of three and one can be over 40 inches. You can keep 10 crappie and 6 smallmouth bass.
It's worth checking out the forest at this time of year too, the forestry roads are generally open and wildlife is stirring. If you listen, you can hear grouse drumming to attract a mate. Songbirds are arriving from the south as are all sorts of waterfowl.
Birders will have improved access this summer. the Polar Polers Ski Club has started construction on a boardwalk over the wetland at the head of their Tilson Creek Trail system. That will provide access to several miles of trails through quite a bit of varied habitat. The likelihood of spotting wildlife is pretty good, especially at this time when the trees have not yet filled out creating dense cover.
Another option for getting out into nature is to check on the waterfalls, where spring runoff is thundering through with a roar, and providing great photo opportunities. I suggest hiking around the hundreds of yards long cascades on the Big Fork at Big Falls, or checking the narrow restriction of Vermilion Falls just south of Crane Lake. Both have great trails and adequate parking areas.
This post was brought to you by Rainy Lake Guide Association.
Boats are now launching onto Rainy River from Nelson Park at Birchdale, and Koochiching County officials say the Frontier Access will soon be open too. People flock to Rainy River for some of the earliest open water fishing in the state. The border waters remain open to walleye fishing until April 14, however, Rainy River is catch-and-release only. You can reel in a big Walleye, snap a few photos and release a breeder back into the system.
If you're looking to keep a fish, Northern Pike, Crappie and Smallmouth Bass are open continuous but there are size restrictions on the Northern Pike.
On April 24, the first Sturgeon tag season opens on Rainy River. You are allowed one per year with a tag, and it must be 45-50 inches inclusive, or larger than 75 inches. The tag season will remain open until May 7th with a catch-and-release period to follow from May 8-15 and it is closed entirely to allow for spawning from May 15-July 1.
Rainy River is a recovering Sturgeon fishery and doing very well. Do your part if you fish for these monsters, use barbless hooks and keep the fish in a horizontal orientation during any handling, holding fish this large in a vertical orientation can cause damage to internal organs.
International Falls, Rainy Lake and Ranier Convention and Visitors Bureau
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