As much as I like winter, this one is starting to drag. It reminds me of the winter of 2014, another one of those winters that seemed as if it never would end.
Even the most die-hard of ice fishing enthusiasts are starting to turn their thoughts toward open water. On Lake of the Woods, where fish houses can be on the lake until Saturday, March 31, many resorts have called it a wrap for the season and are pulling their rentals back to shore.
There’s still plenty of time to wet a line for pike and walleyes, though, as walleye season on Lake of the Woods and other Minnesota-Canada border waters is open through April 14, and pike season on Lake of the Woods is continuous. And, of course, fishing season in North Dakota is open year-round, and good ice should hang around at least a couple more weeks.
While Lake of the Woods still has nearly 4 feet of ice in many areas, anglers already have begun pushing small boats across the ice and into the Rainy River. Dennis Topp, assistant area fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn., said Sunday morning that three boats had pushed across the ice at Nelson Park in Birchdale, Minn., and walleyes were biting.
A Facebook post Monday morning showed heavy equipment clearing ice from the ramp at Nelson Park in Birchdale, which means that stretch of river now will be open to boats of all sizes. Farther upstream, the Kuttes Landing near International Falls, Minn., also is ice-free and accessible to boats of all sizes.
Hit it just right, and spring fishing on the Rainy River can be phenomenal, but it also can be a bit of a circus as hundreds of boats converge at the access points to try their luck at catching prespawn walleyes, which come into the river from Lake of the Woods.
As of Monday morning, open water was visible 6 miles downstream from Birchdale, according to various Facebook reports.
Timing is everything when it comes to spring walleye fishing on the Rainy River. When the tributary streams open, they unleash a stream of ice and debris that muddies up the mainstem portion of the river, shutting off the bite until water clarity improves.
When that happens this year remains to be seen, but the present weather pattern of above-freezing temperatures during the day and below-freezing temperatures at night should slow the runoff and minimize the impact on water clarity.
There is a two-walleye limit on the Rainy River and Four-Mile Bay from March 1 through April 14, and all walleyes 19½ inches or larger must be released. Also, don’t forget to buy a new Minnesota license if you haven’t already done so because the 2017 licenses expired Feb. 28.
The Baudette DNR area fisheries office has a publication online with more information about the spring fishery on the Rainy River, including regulations, a listing of all the boat accesses along the border river and a map showing the location of those access sites.
The publication, which is posted in a downloadable PDF format, is available here.