Rainy River Fishing Regulations, Info, Seasons

Early spring Rainy River fishing is not quite here yet but is fast approaching and it is considered some of the best fishing in the Midwest. Walleyes travel up river to spawn along with northern pike, and sturgeon become more active as well. The Rainy River provides anglers a improved chance at catching those trophy fish because they congregate to spawn. Boaters with sonar will notice parts of the river with fish stacked on top of each other for extended areas.  Within the next week or weeks, open water on the river will increase and so will the boats.  Below is a current image (March 8, 2017) of the Nelson landing at Birchdale.

Nelson Landing, March 8, 2017

It is important for anglers to remember that fishing regulations and limits change for the Rainy River when compared to the actual Lake of the Woods. The Rainy River allows anglers to keep 2 total Walleyes or Saugers under 19.5” from March 1-April 14. Unlike the Lake of the Woods the Rainy Rivers slot is anything over 19.5”. This regulation is designed to protect the large fish who are spawning in the river. Walleye fishing closes to anglers from April 15-May 13. Fishing opener for Minnesota is May 14 this year. At this date anglers are allowed to keep 6 total walleyes and saugers and not more than 4 of which can be walleye. At this point the slot reverts back to 19.5” to 28” and fish in the slot must be immediately released. Four mile bay has the same slots and season dates as the Rainy River up until Dec 1 where the bay switches to a possession limit of 8 walleyes and saugers of which 4 may be walleyes with a slot of 19.5”-28” must be immediately released and one may be over 28”.


Lake Sturgeon are also a popular fish for the Rainy River. The seasons and limits for sturgeon are as follows. There are two open season dates to keep sturgeon on the Rainy River. From April 24-May 7 and July 1-Sept. 30 anglers are allowed to keep one sturgeon 45”-50” or over 75” per calendar year with tag. Along with the possession dates there is a catch and release season. The dates include Oct 1 -April 23, May 8-May 15, and Oct. 1 -April 23. Sturgeon fishing is closed from May 16-June 30.


The Northern Pike season is open yearlong for the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River. Three pike may be kept but only one over 40” may be in possession and pike 30”-40” must be immediately released.

The MN DNR has published 2017 info on fishing the Rainy River that is very helpful.  Great info, a map of the area and a map of public access boat ramps along the river are included.

Lake of the Woods Tourism publishes current info about the Rainy River including where the current open water is, water levels and current info on fishing.  Click Here to view the Rainy River page.

Anglers are encouraged to be careful not to harm fish during handling. Getting the fish back into the water as quickly as possible is a must to decrease mortality.  It is a good idea to have your net, needle nose pliers, camera, etc ready to go.  When grabbing fish supporting the body of the fish and holding the fish horizontally is very important.  With big fish, they are heavy and are designed to be in water, thus when holding them vertically you can actually damage internal organs due to the weight.  Gaffs are illegal in the Rainy River.

The Rainy River is not only a world class fishery, it is a beautiful river to fish.  The scenery, wildlife, and migration are really a nice bonus.  The first time to do anything is usually the toughest as you are seeing and learning the area for the first time.  Once you have been there once, we are confident, you will return.


Click here to return to the Lake of the Woods Tourism website.

Click here to view Lake of the Woods lodging options.

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