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In Springtime, the Rainy Lake Walleye Fishing is Easy

Minnesota’s walleye season traditionally opens on the second Saturday in May, meaning the 2016 season opens on the latest possible day: May 14. This late start to the 2016 walleye season—coupled with a strong El Niño weather pattern—likely means an early spring ice-out, which bodes well for lakes throughout the upper Midwest. Even far-north fisheries, such as Rainy Lake (one of Minnesota’s top multispecies angling destinations) should be warmed up and ready to roll by May 14. This spectacular border water, partially located in Voyageur’s National Park, is one of the state’s most scenic lakes. Expect walleyes to be in peak form mid-May to mid-June as far as cooperating for eager anglers. Spring walleye fishing means targeting fish in shallow water, and when you congregate huge numbers of walleyes in a limited fishing zone, the fishing is easy.

Billy Dougherty, a MidWest Outdoors contributor who marks his 50th year guiding clients in 2016, touts Rainy Lake’s consistently favorable walleye bite in all seasons but firmly believes the May and June walleye bite is the absolute best time of year for incredible action.

“From Opener through that mid-June timeframe, it’s just a continuous conveyor belt of walleyes pulling up shallow and roaming the shoreline breaks, “ he says. “You can’t beat how easy the fishing is, and how many walleyes are swimming in narrow areas. And it’s simple fishing, too.”

He’s right. You don’t need a high level of angling knowledge, exquisite boat control skill, perfectly-tuned tackle techniques, or fancy electronics to siphon the water column during this early season period. All of your bites will come from less than 10 feet of water. Gently casting a jig toward shore and slowly hopping it back to the boat while it tumbles down the breakline, triggers voracious strikes. If you prefer live bait, choose minnows in spring.

Alternatively, a 2.5- to 3.5-inch paddletail plastic lure will stay on the hook longer, allowing more casts and more bites. Smaller-profile plastics closely imitate small spring forage, and the paddle puts a wicked thump vibration in the water column. Walleyes zero in.

Jighead color is less important than weight; 1/8-ounce will suffice in all but the windiest of conditions. If you’re getting bit more frequently in 6 to 10 feet of water than in 2 to 6 feet, upsize to 1/4-ounce jigs for better bottom contact. Choose 6-pound-test fluorocarbon line, and if you can spool with 2/10-pound Sufix 832 Braid for your main line, that’s ideal for added sensitivity. A medium light, 6’3” spinning rod like St. Croix’s Legend Tournament (model: LTWS63MXF) and a high-quality spinning reel completes the package.

Another deadly spring tactic utilizes slip bobbers, with either a 1/16-ounce jighead or a #4 hook on the business end, tipped with a live minnow. Houseboat guests on Rainy Lake employ this tactic to clobber walleyes off the back deck, especially early mornings or evenings. Dougherty provides a key tip regarding the use of slip bobbers for Rainy Lake walleyes in spring.

“It’s critical to set your bait 18 inches to 2 feet off bottom,” he says. “These fish are constantly roaming, on the move. They don’t hug the bottom like in summertime when they are hunkered down on the reefs or deep breaklines. In spring they are super hungry, on the prowl, and swimming the shorelines suspended off bottom.”

There’s one more way to hook lots of big walleyes in May and June on Rainy Lake: shallow jerkbaits and crankbaits. The go-to lure is a #8 or #10 Rapala Husky Jerk; top Rainy Lake colors are Helsinki Shad, Tennessee Shad, and Yellow Perch. Last spring, I threw prototypes of the new Husky Jerk “Ghost” patterns, and enjoyed tremendous success with both Olive and Helsinki colors.

Bonus: depending on water temp progression, some giant northerns might be hanging around these shallow breaks as well, and the erratic action of a jerkbait not only triggers spring walleyes and bass, but some big toothy brutes, too.

And speaking of smallies, Rainy’s world-class smallmouth bass relate to shorelines all the way into July! To switch things up, cast small-profile crankbaits. I had great success last spring throwing Rapala Scatter Rap Shads.

When you visit International Falls and Rainy Lake, don’t forget the Rainy River, which runs the Minnesota/Ontario border eastward about 80 miles to its mouth on Lake of the Woods in Baudette. A legendary spring walleye run lures anglers from across the upper Midwest, who also battle enormous lake sturgeon in the river’s current. Ten- to 13-pound walleyes and sturgeon exceeding 60 inches are caught every year. The season closes April 14, 2016 and reopens with the May 14, 2016 walleye season. Hotels in I-Falls are affordable and feature all the amenities; multiple public boat ramps along the river provide easy access. For a surefire action-packed spring fishing trip, check out Minnesota’s Rainy Lake.



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