It was our sixth year in a row that our group of anglers had spent a week on Rainy Lake. As we pulled into the landing at Island View Lodge, anticipation was running high. We knew that within an hour we would have the boats launched, gear packed into the cabin and be ready to head out for an evening of fishing.
After launching the boats, lodge owner, Ron Opp, stopped to welcome us back for another week of adventure. His words were encouraging as he said the walleye bite had been impressive. That type of news is never hard to take.
Once on the water, our boats split up and headed in three different directions. One of the advantages in working with a group of anglers is being able to check out different parts of the lake and then compare notes back at the cabin. This technique is very valuable and certainly shortcuts the information gathering process.
The small hump my fishing partner, Charlie Simkins, and I targeted yielded a number of fish. We slipped a couple into the livewell for supper and photographed and released several others. It was a great start to another fabulous week on Rainy.
Rainy Lake is an impressive fishery that seems to get better every summer. For six years it has provided us with such impressive walleye fishing we have felt no need to cross the border to look for anything better.
Our group has learned a lot during these six years. Unlike many anglers, we prefer to go during the summer months when the fish are setting up on the deep reefs. Although this midsummer pattern is a challenge for some, we find the deep reef fishing to be very enjoyable.
We have also learned a lot about the different presentations that work. Even though the jig is probably the most utilized presentation on the lake, we have had very good luck with live bait presentations as well as bottom bouncers and spinners.
For the standard live bait rig, we often use shiner minnows. Minnows work well on Rainy even during the summer months. We also take along leeches and crawlers and there are days when one of these other choices is clearly the favorite.
As for bottom bouncers and spinners, double hook crawler rigs, single hooks with three inch PowerBait tails tipped with live bait and smile blade spinners with slow death hooks all work. The key is to experiment to find what the fish want on that particular day.
Although live bait rigging with Vanish fluorocarbon line is my favorite walleye presentation, being able to cover water and search out active biters with bottom bouncers is pretty impressive. The bottom bouncer strategy needs to be part of the game plan.
As for the reefs and other fishing locations, they aren’t hard to find. The key is marking fish in an area before spending time fishing. If we don’t find fish on a reef, we keep looking.
Naturally, quality sonar equipment is critical for the process of searching for fish. Our group utilizes LakeMaster map chips for identifying potential hotspots (www.lakemap.com).
There is a 17 to 28 inch protected slot on Rainy. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons the lake is so full of walleyes. We catch lots of fish in the 20 to 25 inch class but have no trouble finding fish for supper.
Rainy is also home to other species. We always catch quality northern during our stay as well as smallmouth bass.
Anglers are missing out if they are ignoring Rainy Lake. This water is a remarkable fishery that is well worth a visit.
It has happened to me more times than I care to count. In fact, it is such a common occurrence during the late spring and summer months that I have grown to accept it and expect it. Just when I think I have the bite figured out, the fish up and move.
Big water walleye are roamers, plain and simple. They are nomadic in nature and will be on one piece of structure for a few hours and then be gone.
It isn’t an occasional occurrence, either. I have found this late spring and summer pattern to be true on Leech, Kabetogama, Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul, Mille Lacs, Rainy and other big water environments.
The last few years, I have been fortunate enough to spend considerable time on Rainy. Our group of anglers has consistently been successful because we have learned to cope with the roaming characteristics of the walleye.
It is not uncommon to spend as much as two hours searching for walleye on Rainy before we ever drop a line. We make the rounds from structure to structure looking for fish on our sonar units.
The first step in this process is having a boat and motor rig that provides the mobility necessary to do the extensive searching. The other is to have a GPS system that allows you to quickly find structure that has fish holding potential. LakeMaster chips (www.lakemap.com) can be critical for shortcutting this process.
Regardless of the lake you are fishing, structure doesn’t have to be very big to hold fish. Some of my most memorable bites have taken place on small humps and insignificant points.
There are other factors involved in the nomadic walleye characteristic that need to be noted. These fish are not just roaming because they enjoy swimming. They are looking for food in the form of minnows.
Large schools of forage will spend time in open water and sometimes offer a good deep basin bite. However, when the baitfish move onto structure, the walleye are usually not far behind.
Walleye do not take a long time to feed. Countless times we have come across structure that is stacked with fish only to find them gone in an hour or less. Being efficient at working these fish when you find them can be critical.
Once fish are found, they can be caught in a variety of ways. There is no doubt that a short shanked Fire-Ball jig is an excellent way to present bait. Leeches or crawlers work well in late spring and summer, but sometimes shiner minnows are the best.
Live bait rigs are also very effective when targeting feeding fish. A number six hook on the end of six feet of six-pound-test Vanish Fluorocarbon is hard to beat. The bait that will get the most attention may depend somewhat on the day so we always have options available.
There are days when locating scattered fish is the best we can do. During these situations, a two or three ounce bottom bouncer and Rainbow Spinner rig can be the most productive. Occasionally, I will clip off the normal hooks and substitute a long shanked hook with a PowerBait twister tail. I add a piece of crawler or leech for good measure.
Wind plays a major role in where fish setup to eat. Walleye love to feed in the waves. Part of this is due to the baitfish activity and part due to the sight advantage walleye have over baitfish in poor light conditions. Playing the wind is very important.
Walleye on big water rarely setup housekeeping in one spot for very long. Instead, they will come up onto structure, feed, and move back to open water. Success under these circumstances depends on an angler’s ability to find fish.
On big water, walleye are nomadic in nature. Anglers need to be on the move, as well.
I am not exactly sure when I first started to realize that crankbaits and swimbaits are pretty good lures for early season game fish. What I do know is I never seem to use them often enough.
If I am going walleye fishing, my favorite early season presentation is definitely a live bait rig and shiner minnow. I have lots of faith in this combination and it usually does not let me down. However, I use the word “usually” because this presentation is not foolproof.
It was just last spring when I found myself at a loss over what to do next. I had worked several of my early season walleye hangouts with live bait rigs and had yet to boat a walleye or any other fish for that matter. Something was wrong.
The hours I had available were ticking away and I knew I had to do something different. Instead of continuing to work the depths, I pulled out a box of crankbaits and headed for the shallow food flats.
Over the years, I have had pretty consistent success working the shallow flats during the low light periods of the day. However, my mid day success has been somewhat limited. Still, if the fish weren’t deep, they had to be somewhere.
I was only a few casts into the tactic switch when I had my first hit. The fish turned out to be a northern and not a walleye, but I was encouraged and figured the walleye had to be somewhere close by.
I caught several more northern before I hit my first walleye of the day. It wasn’t a monster but I was moving in the right direction. Crankbaits in the shallows were producing action.
It was early June and I decided to make a short run to a nearby lake. The weeds were coming up nicely and the bass were moving out of the shallows to some of the mid-depth weed structure. It seemed like a perfect day to experiment with some cast and retrieve lures.
It was a Mimic Minnow that got the morning started. This swimbait with its paddle tail drew lots of attention. Largemouth bass and northern kept me adequately entertained.
Depending on my mood and size of the lure, I will use both baitcasting rigs and spinning reels. Spinning combos are usually hard to beat.
Because this shallow presentation attracts a variety of fish species, a person can never be sure what will hit next. For this reason I frequently utilize a short, very lightweight, black steel leader. It doesn’t interfere much with the catching ability of my lures, but it sure does save on losing them to toothy critters.
The retrieve can also be important. There are times when I will use a straight retrieve, but I usually find myself varying the speed a little. If the weeds aren’t too thick, a dead stop once in a while doesn’t hurt, either.
Like everyone else, I have my favorite methods and presentations for fishing. However, I keep learning the lesson that crankbaits and swimbaits are effective game fish options that we sometimes forget to use.
- Pressured Geese? Adjust Your Tactics
- Family Ties Are Strong
- Searching for Roosters Brings Rewards
- Tough Day? Try Downsizing
- Many Lakes, Many Fish
- Rainy Lake Walleyes
- Adjusting to the Unexpected
- Target Disconnected Bays for Spring Panfish Action
- Quitting is for Quitters
- Nomadic Walleye and Big Water
- Twitch Baits Are a Viable Option
- Target Weeds, Catch Bass