Spring fishing in full swing along the Rainy River

Like it or not, winter appears to be history, and fishing-wise, it’s time to set the sights on open water.

Lake of the Woods Tourism shared this photo of heavy equipment clearing ice today at the Nelson Park boat ramp on the Rainy River in Birchdale, Minn.

Lake of the Woods Tourism shared this photo of heavy equipment clearing ice today at the Nelson Park boat ramp on the Rainy River in Birchdale, Minn.

The big news comes from the Rainy River, where Lake of the Woods Tourism this afternoon posted a photo of heavy equipment clearing ice from the boat ramp at Nelson Park in Birchdale, Minn., which means the landing now is open to large boats.

Let the circus begin.

The Rainy is making the open-water push downstream earlier than usual this year — no surprise, given the nonwinter we’ve had — and from the second-hand reports I’ve seen, anglers also are pushing small boats across the ice to access the river at the Frontier Landing some 20 miles east of Baudette, Minn., as well.

Early indications are that walleye action is very good, and the Rainy River is living up to its reputation as one of the best spring walleye destinations in the region. Season on the river and other Minnesota-Ontario border waters is open through April 14. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on a large portion of Lake of the Woods being ice-free before the spring season ends.

It’s sure looking that way at this point.

Lake of the Woods fishing update

I tend to take fishing reports with a grain of salt because too many outlets — by my way of thinking, at least — are guilty of sugarcoating the reports and saying the fish are biting even when the action’s slow.

There are exceptions, though.

Saugers have been cooperating so far this winter on Lake of the Woods and buckets of fish such as this one from December 2013 have been common. (Brad Dokken photo)

Saugers have been cooperating so far this winter on Lake of the Woods and buckets of fish such as this one from December 2013 have been common. (Brad Dokken photo)

Gary Moeller of Ballard’s Resort sent a report this morning with the lowdown on what’s happening in the Pine Island area of Lake of the Woods. I haven’t had a  chance to get up there for myself yet, but Moeller says fishing is pretty good. And based on history, when he says fishing is good, I tend to believe him.

Here’s what he had to say about current fishing and ice conditions:

Hello Sportfans…  We are off to the races with the winter ice fishing season here on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods.

What’s the latest and greatest?

Well, we’ve been on the lake for not quite a week now, and the fishing action has been quite good.  Lots of saugers…

The guides have our shacks on the west end of Pine, near the Morris Point Gap, and we’re literally just on the other side of the island in 23-27 feet of water.

Now remember…  We obviously had a later start to our winter fishing season…  So even though it’s now January, we are basically just starting out like it’s early December.  Fishing near shore…

Make sense?

The fish houses are in close.  We’re basically fishing the south end of the flats.  Just getting things going.

What we have found so far is a pretty impressive number of nice sized Lake of the Woods saugers.

This is what the percentage of our folks are telling us here at the lodge.  A good bite…  Lots of eating size saugers…  The occasional walleye mixed in.

Trophy fish?

Yes.  We have seen a couple the past few days.  Just check out our Ballard’s Facebook page.  Lots of action shots there.

A couple of 28-inchers, and a 29″, a 30″, and also TWO walleyes that measured 31″ and 31.5″ respectively.

Now, keep in mind that we’re putting quite a few anglers on the ice each day.  So catching a trophy is more times about getting the LUCKY BITE!

Travel wise?

Ice conditions, in the area we are fishing, have not changed much in the past few days.  We’re still working with 8″-10″, and using the ATV’s / Small Trailers to transport our folks onto the lake.

Sounds like we might have some frigid weather coming our way later this week.  But for now it’s been mostly teens and twenties.

Either way it’s generally the stable weather / barometer that provides the more consistent fishing.

That’s all for now…  Congrats to Linda D. for that AWESOME trophy walleye you caught  So impressive!

Set the hook…

Balmy weather offers ‘bonus days’ fishing greenback walleyes on the Manitoba side of the Red

With temperatures forecast to rise into the 50s this past weekend, I couldn’t resist the invitation a Canadian friend dangled last week to join him for a couple of days to fish “greenback” walleyes on the Manitoba side of the Red River near Lake Winnipeg.

Few places within easy driving distance offer a better shot at a big walleye.

Set the hook and reel me in.

Regardless of the fishing, the opportunity to fish walleyes in a boat in mid-November is a bonus, and we enjoyed two fine “bonus days” of fishing for greenbacks, so-called for the iridescent bluish-green color unique to walleyes in Lake Winnipeg and the lower Red River.

Saturday was about as perfect of a November day as you could ask for, and the muddy parking lot at the End of Main boat access on Netley Creek north of Selkirk, Man., was filled with vehicle-trailer rigs when we launched shortly after 10 a.m.

The first walleye of the day — which also proved to be the largest of the weekend — was putting a bend in my new Jason Mitchell spinning rod barely half an hour after we dropped anchor in about 13 feet of water a couple of miles downstream from the landing.

The greenish beauty was robust, in the way Lake Winnipeg walleyes always are, and measured 27½ inches. I set the fish free after a couple of quick photos and resumed jigging.

I couldn’t have scripted a better way to begin a bonus day.

Days without wind have been rare occurrences this fall, but Saturday passed with barely a breeze, and the surface of the river showed only the slightest ripple. That made the balmy temperature even more enjoyable, and at times, the warmth bordered on hot.

Neither of us were complaining, though.

We encountered a phenomenon Saturday that was made even more obvious by the lack of wind. Normally, as everyone knows, the Red River flows north, but on Saturday, the current along the stretch of river we fished near the mouth actually flowed the opposite direction.

The current wasn’t strong, and with no wind, I easily could feel bottom with a ¼-ounce Northland Tackle Whistler Jig — quite a change from the 6 to 8 ounces of lead we often have to use to keep our bait on the bottom in the summer when catfishing in Manitoba.

The only explanation we could muster for the reversal in flow was that several days of north wind earlier in the week had pushed water from massive Lake Winnipeg into the Red River so vigorously that it actually caused a temporary change in the direction of the current.

At any rate, the fish didn’t seem to mind.

Fishing wasn’t fast, by any means, but it was steady enough to keep us interested. Typical of fish in cooler water — the surface temp was 36.9 degrees — the bite was light. On several occasions, all we could feel was a “presence” — for lack of a better description — at the end of the line when a fish mouthed the bait. Whether the fish was a small sauger or a big walleye, we often couldn’t tell until we set the hook.

We fed our fair share of fish throughout the day and on numerous occasions were serenaded by coyotes howling and yipping nearby. That seemed odd, as coyotes typically are loudest after dark, but these coyotes apparently weren’t listening.

Sunday’s temperature also lived up to predictions, but an east-southeast wind blew just hard enough throughout the day to keep us bundled up. The current also was back to normal, flowing north toward the lake.

Fishing was similar to the previous day. The biggest walleye Sunday measured 24 inches, and my fishing partner made the save of the year when he managed to scoop the greenback into the landing net after it shook my jig nearly 5 feet from the boat.

I also lost a walleye late in the afternoon that felt considerably heavier and left me wondering what might have been.  Losing fish is part of the game, though, and as my fishing partner said, it’s what keeps us coming back.

Judging by the weather forecast, which calls for high temperatures to fall into the low 30s to high 20s by Friday, our days of boat fishing probably are done for the fall.

After two bonus days like we experienced Saturday and Sunday, it’s hard to complain.

Here are a few photos from the weekend:


Brad Dokken started the day Saturday by landing this 27½-inch walleye on the Manitoba side of the Red River near Lake Winnipeg.


With a cloudy sky in the background, the east side of the Red River near Lake Winnipeg appeared to glow Saturday afternoon, illuminated by the setting sun. (Brad Dokken photo)


The sun dips toward the horizon Saturday afternoon on the Manitoba side of the Red River near Lake Winnipeg, marking the end of a day that passed much too quickly. (Brad Dokken photo)


The boat ramp at End of Main north of Selkirk, Man., was a busy place both Saturday and Sunday morning as anglers converged on the Manitoba side of the Red River to take advantage of the balmy November weather. (Brad Dokken photo)