Growing up I used to really enjoy these years when we would be fortunate to get an early ice out and we could get back in the boat a few weeks earlier than normal. That meant a lot more bass caught in a season and it made me happy. I also loved to fish for lake trout early in the season when they could be caught in shallow water. One of my other favourite rites of spring was getting the chance to get out on the Rainy River for early season walleyes before the season closes on April 15.
The spring walleye fishing on the Rainy River is one of the most amazing fishing opportunities I have ever experienced, when the timing is right. You have Lake of the Woods, which the river feeds, one of the best walleye fisheries in the World and the Rainy River is the main spawning destination on the lake. It doesn’t happen every year where you can get out on the river before the season closes, so when it works out, it a fun trip. I would say, for the serious anglers, you could probably figure out a way to get out there every spring and catch a few fish but it probably averages out to being really good every two or three years where you can get out in the boat when the river is clear of ice, has clear water and the big run of fish has entered from the lake.
It’s interesting because Canadian anglers don’t really enjoy this fishery like our U.S. neighbours to the south, who flock the river in the spring and have for many years. I knew that it was a famous fishing destination as a kid from reading U.S. fishing magazines and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I actually went to do it. If you’re traveling to visit the Rainy River, it’s not a place to go if you just want to catch a few walleyes to eat. You can probably find some fish close to home for that, but if you get a nice spring day, you can anchor on one of the many sandbars along the river and have a shot at catching a bunch of walleyes in the six to ten pound range. They are the biggest, heaviest walleyes I have ever seen. They are in shallow water and the water is cold so you are not hurting the fish like you could catching them during the hot summer months.
You can keep it simple on the tackle. I would go with a couple of spinning rods and a handful of jigs. Tipping the jigs with minnows is tough to beat but if you really get around some fish, a jig and plastic minnow will work fine. Most of the fish will caught between six and twelve feet of water. You want to focus on areas behind the sandbars or softer corners, out of the main current of the river, which flows at a good rate. You can anchor in these softer spots or use a trolling motor to drift around with some control.
The water level on the river is typically low in the spring so be careful out there. Humminbird has the river mapped pretty good on their Ontario chip but there are some rock piles and boulders out there on some of those bars. There are boat launches at different points along the river and you can access good fishing near all of them.
Obviously with the current pandemic situation going on right now, traveling to fish might not be the best idea for everybody but making a trip to the Rainy River should be on the bucket list for anybody that is eager to get the boat in the water in the spring and catch some walleyes before the season closes for about a month.