Anglers ready to take on the high, fast Rainy River for Emo Walleye Classic

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Even with the raging waters of a swollen river awaiting them, anglers are gearing up for the Emo Walleye Classic with excitement and only a little trepidation.

The Emo Walleye Classic returns in traditional format this weekend, running in Emo from May 26 to May 28. While the usually-annual fishing event will feature many of the community activities and events the public have come to expect from it such as the boat parade, penny tables and various canteens, the biggest draw is, of course, the fishing itself. Anglers are scheduled to begin the day’s fishing at 8:00 a.m. on the Friday and Saturday of the tournament, and even with current water conditions being unpredictable and extremely high, some tournament anglers who spoke to the Times late last week said they’re still looking forward to getting out and trying to land the big one.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Ted Heyens, a longtime fisher of the tournament. “Sometimes high water can be ok, and the fish are there. You just gotta dial them in, you’ve got to try and find them. They’re probably a little harder, a little muddier, and there’s lots of current so you have to get into the back eddies and just pick around.”

The Times spoke to the anglers ahead of the season opener on the May Long weekend, so none of them had had the opportunity to get out and fish the river, though many, including Heyens, said they would be trying to do so ahead of Friday’s kickoff.

Dennis Smith is another experienced angler taking on the tournament this year, and he said the water levels will present a challenge to everyone competing.

“It’s going to change fishing quite a bit,” Smith said. “It’s a big challenge, but it’s always a challenge on the river anyway. You never know, year after year it changes, and that’s one of the challenges that anglers tackle.”

High, fast water isn’t slowing down the action at the Emo Walleye Classic this weekend. While launching could pose a challenge, many anglers are looking forward to finding fish in unique new places. – Daniel Adam photo

The high water and rapid currents on the river present an opportunity for anglers to take a gamble. They can choose to stick to the spots that have served them well in the past and hope the water levels and current have provided a boon for fish in those areas, or they can read the river and try out new spots or tactics when it comes to trying to land the champion walleye. As many tournament fishers will tell you, it only takes one big catch to change the game.

Smith said he’ll be trying out shallower spots along the shoreline and looking for eddies along the river to try and hook his champion fish.

While anglers are excited to fish the tournament, there are still concerns around the amount of water that’s flowing down the river. According to data collected by the Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB), the Rainy River flow and water levels are at extreme levels and unlikely to return to normal within the next few weeks. The LWCB notes the flow measured in the Rainy River at Manitou Rapids is roughly 1,457m3/s — well above its average range of approximately 250m3/s and 850m3/s for this time of year. The elevation of the river at Manitou Rapids is currently just over 329m, over the average of between 325.5 m and 327.5m.

Angler Dan Pollard said he has concerns with anglers being able to safely launch their boats with the water moving along the river as quickly as it is.

“I’m wondering how we’re even going to get boats in there,” he said.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the committee just to get people launched. We haven’t been out yet, but we might go out on the Thursday and poke around, see what happens between now and then. High water like that, there’s lots of debris and stuff like that out there. But if they can get us in the water, I imagine we’ll be out there fishing in it.”

Aaron Bisson said the high water will present a challenge, but more water will hopefully mean more fish.

“The water is going to be extremely high, maybe higher than we’ve ever had it,” Bisson said. “There’s going to be lots of current and lots of obstacles, should be lots of fish in the river, so we’ll see who can find them. You just have to be careful, and it’s kind of the same as always. The conditions on the river change so much year to year. We’ve dealt with a lot of low-water years, and now it’s going to be an extreme high-water year. We’ll try to get out there and get on some fish and see what happens. One big fish changes the tournament.”

Head to the Emo Walleye Classic this weekend to see how anglers fare in two days of tournament fishing. Weigh-ins begin at the Emo Arena at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.