Rainy River Walleyes
I love this place ! There is no finer destination in all of North America that has the consistant fishing season after season and the variety of species available. The Rainy River is located along the Minnesota/Ontario border and is utilized by both Canadian and American anglers. This fishery has become so popular that anglers from all over the continent have experienced the excellent Spring fishing and have marveled at the scenic atmosphere and the sheer beauty of the surroundings. As a longtime professional guide and angler, I have experienced just about every waterway throughout Ontario and the upper United States and this has always been my top choice for big fish as well as numbers. This river has it's unique tendencies and quirks. I have put together some tips and tactics that have been successful for this angler over the decades.
Many boaters and anglers are just plain scared of rivers. This actually means that anglers are scared by the current affects not by the river itself. This is understandable especially for lake people but in reality you will find the Rainy a very gentle sort and easily managed by most boats in the 14 foot size and larger. I compare this river to the likes of the Mississippi and the Missouri River in South Dakota and believe the Rainy is the easiest to both navigate and fish properly among the above group. The key to successful walleye and sauger fishing on the Rainy River, as with most other rivers, is the ability of the angler to control his or her boat. Keep in mind the Rainy has current fluctuations that change according to the rain and snow runoff of early Spring. This means some days the current is hardly noticable but just a few days later you could have completely different conditions. When fishing the Rainy I employ my two electric motors as a hedge against the current. No matter what the conditions my two electric trolling motors can handle any situation.
Early Spring Rainy River walleyes love slow moving baits and you need to make sure your boat moves slower than the current. The first thing to notice is the direction of the wind. The fact that the Rainy lays in a east-west direction means if you are moving with the current you will need to use your transom electric to slow the boat progress. If the wind happens to be pushing you from the other direction, the front or bow electric can be used to slow your progress. This one-two punch assures you can control your boat no matter what the wind dishes out. Another trick I have learned is to keep your boat parallel with the river shoreline. This means you should be moving down the river with your boat lengthwise and not turned sideways. The sideways position is always the easiest to manage multiple fishing lines but the current and wind velocity catches that fat side of the boat and pushes it downstream much too fast. Your electric motors won't do you much good in that sideways position.
Early Spring on the Rainy River is jig time. Leadheads, eggheads, plain colored and multi-colored jigs will all catch fish but there are days when the walleyes can be color conscious. Veteran Rainy anglers all swear by copper colored jigs or brass colored that seem to match the water clarity. In all honesty, I have honed my fishing skills over the decades to have become a finesse style jig fisherman meaning I have conditioned myself to downsize my baits and use light line to catch pressured fish. The Rainy is the most forgiving fishery I have ever witnessed. This is good for most anglers because even the most inexperienced angler can learn and master walleye catching skills by making a ton of mistakes. You can get away with a ton of miscues on the Rainy that most rivers would not allowthat's the another key advantage to learning to fish the Rainy. Always try and match your jig size to match the current velocity. This means if you have a light current and manageable winds, you can get by using jigs in the l/8th to l/4 .oz size. If the current is heavier than usual, many anglers beef up their leadheads to the to .oz size. Learn to experiment on this river with both size and color. Always make sure everyone in your boat is using a different jighead style and color. Let the fish tell you what they prefer. The same goes for your minnow choices. I have always preferred a chub style bait if I can get it or a nice, 3 inch shiner. There are also times when using a frozen smelt on a plain jighead works wonders. Fatheads are a good choice but it always pays to have a variety of choices with you.
There are times when anchoring your boat can be absolutely deadlyas long as you know you are on a hot spot in the first place. Many anglers will drop that anchor on the first contact and will hold that boat in place and vertically work those jigs over the side of the craft. This is a very practical way to angle especially with a large group of fisherpeople. Anchor style is rather critical because you need some sort of hook style to hold that boat because you have current to content with. These anchors feature a three-pronged hook style which catches on the bottom and holds well versus the smooth, mushroom styles.
You will not be alone on the Rainy River in the Springtime. I have found that you will encounter other anglers no matter what reclusive access you choose. Nowadays with the modern boat conveniences and huge outboards, anglers are much more mobile than they used to be. Always try and fish areas that are not as congested for best success. I would rather fish a secondary stretch of the river in relative peace and quiet than a hard hit, crowded area because those walleyes can sense that activity and will react accordingly. Many walleyes and saugers remain in this waterway until late May before returning to the big lake. Fishing can be downright spectacular in May and this Spring looks like a really late arrival meaning the fishing will probably stay consistant well in to late May and possible early June.
Clues For Success
I have found over the years that the shoreline is a key indicator of good fishing spots on the Rainy. Look for subtle changes in the configuration of the banks and shore. Small gaps along grassy shorelines mean there is a possible inlet or feeder creek that supplies water and nutrients into the river. Rip-rap along shorelines indicates possible location of insects and crayfish and more boulders and rocks that extend into the main river itself. Washouts are little crevices and scoops in the river bottom that have been made by flowing water and debris from man-made reasons such as drainage systems or road drain. -30-