Goin’ Big Early on Lake of the Woods Pays Off


I’ve been fishing on Lake of the Woods for over 30 years. This magnificent body of water has yielded many great fishin’ tales for me, and when you multiply that by the tens of thousands of anglers who visit here every year, it’s easy to see why it remains a top destination choice for so many folks.

During a TV shoot last June, a very eye-opening half-day on the water provided a clear example of the potential for this lake. MWO TV producer Matt Pollack and I were filming shows for Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort, joined by Mark Arnesen and Capt. John Head on the charter boat. Typically, in late May and early June, dominant walleye presentations on LOW involve live bait tactics—either a spinner/’crawler rig or a jig and minnow bite drifted in productive basin areas. Live bait excels at triggering more bites from walleyes during spring when water temps have not yet reached the summertime peaks.

We started out our morning along the deep edges of a rock reef, structure that typically attracts and holds walleyes throughout the year, but especially in spring. Finding and catching walleyes here is about as automatic as it gets, with a huge biomass of various year-classes and schools of fish roaming throughout the system. Expecting a torrid, easy bite, we dropped some baited jigs over the side and occasionally even got lazy enough to put the rods in rod holders and let the bobbing of the waves induce an “up-and-down” jigging motion on our behalf.

We caught fish measuring under the 19 1/2 inches, the protected slot specimens ideally suited to filling our ice chest with shore dinner. However, we were after some bigger fish—the 8-pounds-plus big girls that this lake is famous for. Hands-down, when comparing the popular Minnesota walleye waters statewide, Lake of the Woods unquestionably gives you the best chance of catching true trophies exceeding 30 inches and 10 pounds.

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Mark Arnesen suggested we take a break from live-baiting walleyes and return to our reef-edge location later in the day, making the assumption that the big ones were laying low out in the basin and might become more active later in the day. Within minutes, we had the trolling rods out and were tying on big profile lures like Storm FlatStick Jointed number 16s.We chose gaudy, bright colors like Orange Tiger UV and Pink Tiger UV, colors ideally suited for triggering vicious strikes from big northern pike, especially in spring and fall. It’s a simple presentation: Simply flatline the lures out behind the boat and troll the shallow tops of the reefs (many topping out at 9-10 feet), occasionally smacking the lures into the rocks to create more erratic action from an already erratic lure. What followed was a remarkable display. (You can see it firsthand by clicking on the “U.S. Destinations” link/page on midwestoutdoors.com and check Arnesen’s link.)

We didn’t even have all the lines set in a trolling pattern before a rod doubled over with the weight of a big one. Excitedly, we battled what we thought was a nice pike—right up until it surfaced as a huge walleye. Then, another rod loaded with a fish strike, and then another. The classic “fire drill” of fish catching, sometimes two at a time (literally), scooped in the net. And these weren’t the little guys you flip into the boat; all of the fish were brutes.

It was a day of discovering an unusual bite for big walleyes—given the time of year—with relatively calm conditions, bright sun and a chosen lure presentation. In reality, none of these factors really lined up in our favor, but Lake of the Woods, in all her bounty, rewarded us with a huge catch nonetheless. We had fished in cold, springtime water and “small-lure,” “finicky-bite” walleye conditions, and the big girls were up as shallow as they could be, absolutely destroying the big-bite lures on every trolling pass we made across the reef. Even more remarkable, when we experimented with “go-to” lure sizes and styles—like the number 7 Rapala Shad Rap, a top choice for summer trolling on LOW—we couldn’t trigger a single bite. The walleyes, along with some dandy northern pike measuring in the 30-inch range, only wanted the biggest-profile lure we could put in front of them.

That’s what Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods offers—fun fishing. For a summer family fishing trip, a family reunion or a group of couples and buddies, the charter boats operating out of the many fine lodges on this lake provide an experience you won’t soon forget. Because some of the best dates fill up early, you’d do well to make your inquiries now and choose a resort that’s a perfect fit. When it comes to Minnesota walleye fishing, with the saugers and bonus northern pike mixed in, it doesn’t get any better.