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.
Rainy River access in International Falls, Pelland Junction, and Birchdale are all open.
Rainy River provides some of the earliest and best open water fishing in the upper midwest as walleye head upstream from Lake of the Woods. Walleye season on our border weaters remains open until April 14, and you might also pull in one of the huge sturgeon lurking in the river. The swifter waters below the dam at International Falls are almost always good for a few walleye and smallmouth bass. Kuttes Landing at Pelland Junction is just upstream from the confluence of the Little Fork River, which is another great hot spot. Nelson Park at Birchdale is just below the Long Sault Rapids where you can find concentrations of walleye and sturgeon.
Related: What Fishing On Rainy River is like.
The shorter days and cooler weather usually trigger more aggressive feeding among our gamefish. Anglers are finding more smallmouth bass along with walleye on the submerged structure. The walleye are a little deeper and the shoals east of Grindstone Island have been the hottest spots. Use bright colored jigs and live bait to target walleye and colorful lures for the bass. The crappie bite has been pretty good in Black Bay and into the Rat Root River.
Walleye are starting to show up more frequently in Rainy River as the annual fall run appears to have started. River anglers are also still trying for some trophy sturgeon and the tag season will close at the end of the month.
Even though it’s early September, some maple trees are showing red so fall colors could be showing a little early this year.
Photo by Full Throttle Guiding.