Come March, who isn’t itching to get out on the water, soak up the sun, and float the day away while waiting for the big one? This month, we celebrate the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere but it might not feel or look like it. Ice still covers the lakes, the threat of late winter snow storms looms over us, and the temps aren’t quite warm enough to bury your winter coat in the back of your closet yet. But just as winter starts to retreat, migrating season begins for walleye making their way to spawning grounds and that means it’s prime season for many anglers looking to catch the big one.
Anglers migrate to the north every spring for one big reason: catch-and-release season. Fishers with cabin fever can delight knowing that they don’t have to wait for the May fishing opener in Minnesota to get out on the water and start casting. This catch-and-release season is in effect from March 1 to April 14 on Rainy River. With anglers migrating from all over the region for the extended season, here’s what you need to know:
Oberholtzer Trail is an easy hike in Voyageurs National Park. This hike features sweeping scenery of the surrounding forest and wetlands. This hike starts just outside of the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. The first 1.5 miles is wheelchair accessible. In the winter this trail is tracked for snowshoeing. There is camping available in Voyageurs National Park. It is named after Ernest Oberholtzer, better known as "Ober." Ober died over 20 years ago, but his legacy lives on, not only on this trail named for him, but also in the preservation and creation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. To quote Ober regarding the trails of the area of Voyageurs National Park,
"These trails of the north are a sermon in harmonious living. They tell not only of a race in conflict with [Western] civilization but of their whole philosophy and outlook on life. We have so much to learn from Indians and no better place to learn it today than portages worn smooth by our Indian predecessors."
-Ernest Oberholtzer (Oberholtzer Foundation, Friend of the Ojibwe
The trail is accessed from the Rainy Lake Visitors Center.
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