When you live near the Minnesota and Canadian border, two things become very important in life: fishing and bragging rights. That’s why the hard-core anglers of the northland (and those who vacation there) fish in all conditions, even in just a few weeks’ spread. For the recent statewide “opener,” there were boats pushed all the way up to the ice still just two miles out on Lake of the Woods. You can look long and hard and not find a more prolific fishery with so many options. Spend a few weeks in April and May up at the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River to find all of the following at your disposal. When you head back home, you will have plenty of bragging rights—-guaranteed.
Because Lake of the Woods and Rainy River are border waters to Canada, the northern pike season is open year-round. That draws a whole lot of folks from everywhere to get in on some trophy pike.
Meet the team that won a little friendly competition on Zippel Bay (only a $60 entry fee) for the past two years: Katie Pieper and Katie Berg. Pieper, originally from Montana, grew up fly fishing. When she moved to Baudette, she embraced Lake of the Woods’ big water fishing. Berg grew up in the Lake of the Woods area and now resides in Deerwood, Minnesota. The female duo caught a trophy 42-1/2-inch pike that weighed 16 pounds, seven ounces. The kicker fish helped claim first place in the two-day contest. What makes these two gals good anglers? “We both fish a lot,” said Pieper. “We practice and have a competitive edge that we want to beat the guys at fishing the big fish and beating the cold weather just as much as they can. I think we got a little more respect now with the second win. It’s not a fluke; we’ve won it twice.”
The sturgeon season is a little complicated with both harvest and catch-and-release dates on the calendar, but if you are looking for the experience of a lifetime with a big lake sturgeon, you will get your chance at Lake of the Woods and Rainy River. “Where else can you fish where the odds that you’re going to catch the largest fish of your life are so good?” asked Matt Breuer of Northcountry Guides. “If you’re up at Lake of the Woods or Rainy River over a couple of days, a 50-inch fish is more likely than not. That is a fish as old as we are, or older,” continued Breuer. “My nephew caught a huge, tagged sturgeon his first time out this year. It was amazing.”
Lake of the Woods may get a little flak from a few other parts of the country about their claim to be the “Walleye Capital of the World,” but it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. Packer and Buckeye fans might like to argue whose lake is really “it,” while the northern Minnesotans just sit back and go fishing.
The walleye season is available through the ice during the winter until mid-April, an extended season due to the border water regulations. When I say ice, I’m talking some serious serious stuff—it still isn’t completely off the lake even in mid-May. “The average thickness is three-feet-plus during the winter, and in the heart of the season we can get 50 inches of ice,” said Joe Henry, Executive Director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. “That makes for safe conditions for five full months.”
The season then moves to a window on the Rainy River that offers spectacular walleye fishing.
The official “opener,” usually the second weekend in May and often on Mother’s Day weekend, was the subject of my first children’s book, A Whirlwind Opener. It is kind of a big deal in the northland. “I turned back 10 fish over 28 inches this year during the opener,” said Dick Dodds, owner of Rainy River Resort. “This is the place to go to catch fish of a lifetime. It spoils you … it’s that good of fishing.”
For locals and tourists alike, this just means Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River present plenty of opportunities to catch big, trophy fish throughout the year for memories that will last a lifetime.
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.