Fall Fishing and the Rainy River Tradition

It is that time of the year.  Each fall, the Rainy River experiences a right of nature, a tradition of sorts for outdoors minded anglers who don’t mind fishing in chilly fall temperatures for the chance at a walleye of a lifetime.  The emerald shiners run up the Rainy River.  We really don’t know why they swim up river but some believe they are in search of food.  Others believe it is to toughen up for the upcoming winter.  While we are not certain on why the emeralds enter the river, we do know why the walleyes enter the river, to eat one of their favorite forage, the emerald shiners.  This natural pattern triggers that itch for many anglers leading to great memories and the Rainy River tradition.

On a recent year’s outing, Greg Jones of Midwest Outdoors and myself had the opportunity to do some fall fishing on the Rainy River.  If you got on the fish, you would catch them.  If you could not find the fish as they are moving around, sometimes pulling cranks is a good strategy to put walleyes in the boat.

We did both and had to be flexible.  Trolling a relatively shallow flat against the current, we caught some nice fish.  We then jigged and caught a few more including a huge 30″ walleye with a big girth and not on purpose, a sturgeon that went over 60 inches.

This given day on the Rainy River really reminded me why anglers love fall fishing and the Rainy River tradition.  Check out this episode of Midwest Outdoors from the Rainy River.

The current Rainy River report.  The first thing to say is don’t sit all day in the same spot if you are not catching fish.  Move around and try and find fish.  Try up river, down river, deeper, shallower, different techniques.  Ask around, find out what the trends are.  This will lead to more success.

The thought is as the water cools into the low and mid 40’s and the larger emerald shiners will begin to run as will the larger walleyes.  Interestingly enough, this year there has been a decent shiner run so far.  That was evidently enough to get things in motion as the walleye fishing is only getting better this past week on the Rainy River.  The big walleyes are starting to show up and if this year is like most other years, it should only get better if you like hawgs.Emerald shiners, Rainy River, Lake of the Woods

Some years, bait dealers have some live shiners, other years, just frozen.  These sleep deprived entrepreneurs work very hard and are often out all night in search of shiners.  Anglers love nothing more than having fresh live shiners to tip their jig with.  Most don’t realize the efforts bait dealers go through to actually catch them this time of year, checking nets and key shiner areas often three or more times throughout the night.

Typically, good numbers of walleyes with some big walleyes show up in the river.  This is what sustains the tradition.  Will the run continue all fall or stop and start up again?  Only Mother Nature knows, but anglers realize, there are normally shiners and walleyes in the river each and every fall.

Fall Rainy River walleyeInto October and then pushing into November, the days will get shorter and the water colder, things will start to shift.  Normally bigger fish will continue showing up.

Big walleyes during deer hunting.  It is common to hear about huge walleyes being caught during the weeks most are sitting in tree stands looking for venison or horns.  It is definitely a tough choice as the deer hunting season is short.

Most anglers are targeting walleyes jigging.  Typically a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce jig will give you control in the current of the Rainy River.  If water is really rolling, don’t be afraid to go to a 3/4 or even ounce.  It is important to maintain control and feel the jig occasionally bounce off of the bottom.  The walleyes don’t mind a larger jig.

Colors vary but you can’t go too wrong with colors like gold, orange, glow, pink, white, peacock or combinations of such.  Area resorts and bait shops have a good selection of heavier jigs in the good Lake of the Woods colors.  The local tackle company, Tom’s Tackle, has a wide selection of jigs that just work on these waters.

Jigs, Lake of the WoodsStinger hooks.  I am a big believer in stinger hooks this time of year.  Hook a stinger up to the hook of your jig.  This 2″ line attached to a small treble hook can be the difference between a so-so day and a great day.  Hook the small treble just in front of the tail of the shiner.  It amazes me how big of fish can be taken on the small treble.

stinger hookWork holes, current breaks or even flats.  Anchor up in a spot and wait for walleyes to move through or slowly motor up current and down current with a controlled drift.  Change colors of jigs until you find out which color is preferred that day.

One method of fishing on the Rainy River one shouldn’t overlook is trolling crankbaits.  This past week was a perfect example.  Although I stuck a big 30″ walleye on a jig and emerald shiner, we actually caught more walleyes trolling that given day.  In our case, on that day, we targeted 9′ of water and caught keepers and a 20″ and 26″ throwback.  We did hear of a couple of big fish taken trolling as well.

Leadcore line will allow you to troll the deeper holes in addition to the shallow stretches.  When fishing the shallow water, we simply long lined Rapala Shad Raps and Wally Divers.

If you aren’t an avid deer hunter or perhaps get your deer early, you may want to consider a trip to the river.  Dress warm, be safe and make some memories that only can be made late fall.


To learn more about Lake of the Woods, check out the Lake of the Woods Tourism website.

To find a guide, charter boat or lodging, check out our lodging page.

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