Navigating the Depths: A Comprehensive Guide to Fishing the Legendary Rainy River

As every year, Mother Nature is in control.  The ice on the Rainy River isn’t as thick as it is in normal years.  In addition, the river already started opening up near the Nelson Park boat ramp in Birchdale, MN, only to be frozen over again when old man winter decided to make another appearance (it has been a weird winter).  With that being said, it will be very soon and anglers will be catching big walleyes, sturgeon and pike out of the Rainy River for the annual spring season.  Here is a head start on some helpful information.

rainy river public accesses

We need to thank Koochiching County, and everyone who has a hand in the north country spring fishing season in advance.  Each year, Koochiching County does a great job of plowing out the boat ramp and access areas of snow.  They also are helpful in giving that pesky shoreline ice in front of the boat ramps a little push with a backhoe to speed things up a bit.  It also makes things safer, as without a boat ramp open, there are a number of boats that would have dropped in over the shoreline ice in pursuit of big Rainy River gold.

There are others to thank as well.  The many Kooch and Lake of the Woods County workers who deal with an aspect of spring fishing, City of Baudette with the Timber Mill Park landing, local law enforcement, MN DNR, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and others who play a role in this rite of spring.

How will fishing be?  Time will certainly tell, but many local anglers who keep a pretty close eye on the river believe there are a good number of nice walleyes in the river already, left over from last fall when they entered.  Some good fish were caught this winter as well.  As the season progresses, more and more walleyes from the lake will enter the relatively small confines of the river, setting up one of the great traditions in the Midwest.

On to some commonly asked questions this time of year…

Can I fish the Ontario side of the Rainy River?  The answer is yes, as long as you have the proper Ontario fishing license and fishing or outdoors card (if you didn’t purchase a one day license in which the card is not required).  There are different limits and regulations when fishing Ontario waters, please refer to official Ontario Fishing Regulations.

shiners lake of the woods tourismCan I have live or frozen bait in my boat when fishing the Ontario side of the Rainy River?  No.  No bait, alive, dead, or frozen is allowed to travel into Canada from the U.S. as of October of 2020.  You can use artificials, which are popular in the spring season.  Plastics on jigs and crankbaits are good options.

Can I keep walleyes on the Ontario side of the river and transport them to the U.S. during the spring season on the Rainy River?  No.  Because the walleye fishery on the Minnesota side of the Rainy River is catch and release only, the MN DNR states it is unlawful to transport walleyes across the border into Minnesota.

Can I trailer my boat into Ontario, fish the Ontario side of the river during the spring season, keep walleyes and trailer the walleyes back into Minnesota?  No.  According to the MN DNR, you must not bring walleyes across the border during the spring season even if by automobile.

Can I navigate into Ontario waters for safety or to avoid a pack of boats?  Yes.  For safety reasons, and the law is reciprocal, you are allowed to navigate into Canada waters to avoid dangerous situations such as shallow water, ice chunks, a pack of boats, etc.  Just don’t fish there unless you have taken measures to fish the Ontario side of the river.

Are there unwritten rules I should follow while spring fishing the Rainy River?  There certainly are.  Here are just a few that most anglers do a nice job of abiding by.

Be patient and helpful.  Plan on a longer period of time launching your boat.  With one or two accesses open especially, it will simply take longer.  Be helpful, be kind.  Once you are out on the water, there are miles of river to fish which allows you to spread out.

Keep It Clean.  Please pack out what you packed in.  Most boat landings have porta poddies set up and in many cases, even dumpsters.  If a dumpster is not available or it is full, please take your trash with you vs piling it on or around an overflowing dumpster.  It is simply the right thing to do.

-Watch for No Parking signage.  A couple of years ago, a pickup with four people parked right in front of an approach of a local land owner with a No Parking sign right there.  When asked why, the comment was all four were going to divide the cost of the ticket.  Please don’t be that guy.  The No Parking rules are in place for a variety of good reasons and the privilege of spring fishing, using parks with boat ramps, etc. is a privilege.  Trucks and trailers for spring Rainy River fishing

-Don’t pull your trailer out of the water too quickly.  The reason is your trailer is draining water as you pull it out of the water.  If it is cold out, that water gets on the concrete of the boat ramp and creates ice.  If you pull out slowly and hesitate for just a bit, the vast majority of water will drain off into the river or at least right at waters edge.

-Use caution on HWY 11.  Watch your speed and keep observant as when  you approach a road off of HWY 11 that leads to a boat ramp, there is a good chance there could be stopped traffic, someone pulling out in front of you, etc.  A simple head’s up to remind you that some of those areas cannot be seen from a long ways away.

Help out others, everyone wants to get on the water.  Most anglers are so good about helping out their fellow angler.  Whether it is helping them crank up a boat on a trailer, guiding them when backing up a boat trailer, or grabbing their boat if they are coming into the dock, it is impressive how most are super helpful.  Kudos to you.

I am guessing we didn’t cover everything, but if we can assist you in any way during the spring fishing season, please reach out at info@LakeoftheWoodsMN.com.

Spring fishing on the Rainy River.  It is a tradition for many.  A chance to splash your boat for the first time in 2024.  A chance to once again get out on that beautiful blue open water.  And on the Rainy River, the authentic chance to catch a monster walleye, pike or sturgeon.  Have fun, be safe and make some memories!


Spring Fishing Info from the MN DNR

Lodging for Spring Fishing

Info about Lake of the Woods County

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