Another spring walleye season has come to a close on the Rainy River, and by all accounts, the last few days were busy.
I talked to Dennis Topp, assistant area fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn., on Monday morning, and he said the DNR tallied 203 vehicle-boat trailer rigs Thursday at the Nelson Park boat access in Birchdale, Minn. The line of vehicles stretched from the boat ramp to state Highway 11 — which is 1.2 miles — and then a half-mile down either side of Highway 11 and pretty much any place else that offered a parking option, Topp said.
With much of the river downstream from Clementson, Minn., still locked in ice, launching options this year were limited to Frontier, Birchdale and ramps closer to International Falls, Minn. By 7:30 Friday morning, 86 boats already were launched and in the water at Birchdale, Topp said.
Despite the crowds, the anglers who made the trip seemed to handle the logjam just fine, he said.
“There were times with more than 30 boats waiting in line to launch,” Topp said. “I never found anybody who was in a bad mood. I guess they knew what they were getting into.”
For many anglers, the opportunity to get in a boat again after a winter that never seems to end was a fair trade for the traffic. Saturday, April 14, was the last day of the spring season.
“It’s just the cost of doing business for them,” Topp said. “Typically what I’ve told people is expect it to be colder than anything you’ve ever fished in a boat, expect huge crowds but don’t expect fishing to be excellent because a lot of times it isn’t.”
Hit it right, though, and spring fishing on the Rainy River can be spectacular. And that’s what keeps people coming back.
In the meantime, sturgeon will take center stage for the next few weeks, and the season is open through May 15, though fishing beginning May 8 is catch-and-release only. For more information on sturgeon regulations on Rainy River, Lake of the Woods and other Minnesota-Canada border waters, check out Page 58 of the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet.
As of Monday morning, the leading edge of open water on the Rainy River was just downstream from Silver Creek, about 5 miles upstream from the International Bridge in Baudette, Topp said.
“The open water moved over 4 miles in the last two days, so we should see some water come through town in a couple of days, given the warmer weather and sunshine that is forecast,” Topp said.
Based on records dating back to 1934, first kept by area residents and for more than 50 years by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, April 20, 1950, is the latest date a channel has opened at the bridge. In 2007, the channel opened up on April 19. So, while this year might not set a record for the latest open water at the bridge in Baudette, it’s definitely going to be right up there.
Here are the CBP ice-out records at the International Bridge since 2008.
- 2008: April 13.
- 2009: April 4.
- 2010: March 17.
- 2011: April 3.
- 2012: March 21.
- 2013: April 13.
- 2014: April 17.
- 2015: March 31.
- 2016: March 17.
- 2017: March 24.
Given the late ice-out in the border country and indeed across the region, it’s likely many lakes will still have at least some ice for the May 12 Minnesota Walleye Opener. I ice fished Lake of the Woods on opening day 1996, and a repeat opportunity this year certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
We had a boat hooked up and were planning to hit the Rainy River, which was open into Four-Mile Bay, but fishing on the lake was so good we spent the entire day on the ice.
There wasn’t another boat in sight.