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Spring Trophy Walleye on the Rainy River

This particular winter was mild in northern Minnesota and anglers are on the Rainy River earlier than what many anglers can remember.  This particular season is shaping up to be a great season on the river.  The walleye season closes the middle of April, so anglers are going to get a longer season to target trophy walleye this spring.  Little snow and precipitation have made the river low so there doesn’t look like there will be the usual challenges of high water, flooding, or especially dirty water that can slow down the fishing.  Most springs, the Forks which are tributaries that run into the Rain River break open, and this dumps a lot of debris and muddy water into the system that often shut down the bite.  The Forks look pretty tame this particular spring.  According to guide Donnie O’Bert, the Rainy River is currently about five to six feet below normal spring levels. 

This low water has created some adjustments but there are already a lot of walleye in the system.  Donnie explains that the males typically push into the river first while the biggest females seem to be a few steps behind.  Right now, there are many 18–22-inch fish in the river but more and more of the top end 28-30 inch class trophy fish are showing up every day. 

Locations & Tactics

Donnie O’Bert recommends focusing on the deeper holes or troughs where there is slower water.  Early in the season, the fish seem to push up the river and rest in these deeper holes. Because of the low water, these locations are more confined.  The aggressive fish will often be on the leading or upstream edge of the hole.  Because the current is down, dragging jigs slowly upstream can be deadly this season.  Slowly crawl ¼ ounce jigs with soft plastics behind the boat at .3 to .5 miles per hour.  O’Bert is a big fan of the ¼ ounce Northland MVP jig as the hook is a wider Gamakatzu premium hook that can accommodate the fatter profile plastics that hover and hang in the current better while dragging upstream.  Top plastic options include the Eye Candy Paddle Shad and the Keitech Fat Shad. 

“Dragging, with little to no flow on the river right now, dragging is a great option to contact as many fish as possible while keeping our baits thumping as we drag across pods of fish. 1/4 Oz Northland MVP Jigs and Tungsten Long Shanks have been about perfect at .4-.5 mph up stream.” – Donnie O’Bert

Besides dragging jigs and plastics to cover water, watch the side imaging for fish. There are often sawtooth bottoms with rises and dips where fish will lay in the dips and these fish can often be seen with side imaging.  When you see a pod of fish on side imaging, use the spot lock on the trolling motor and cast back at the fish.  Pitching back on pods of fish can put several fish in the boat fast. 

Remember as well that these fish are moving a lot this time of year.  Warmer days in particular can bring many new fish into the river.  At times, you will see a distinct shallow bite emerge in the afternoon when the sun comes out, particularly on the Ontario side of the river where fish will often move up shallow on the north shore to soak up warmer water. 

For jigs and plastics, O’Bert and many other guides rely on braided line, but anglers are using a longer ten-pound fluorocarbon leader this year in particular because the water is cleaner than normal

O’Bert reminds anglers that fishing the Rainy River is a social event.  You are going to have boats around you.  If you don’t like to fish anywhere near people, you will not enjoy the Rainy.  When navigating the river, O’Bert recommends running on plane and don’t worry about slowing down as you pass boats.  Coming off plane actually sends a much bigger wake and takes longer to blow through.  When you load your boat, let the water run off the trailer at the water’s edge so that the water doesn’t freeze on the ramp.  Enjoy your time on the river, this spring is shaping up to be a great season.


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