Walleyes reign, Rainy bass to get their day
BAUDETTE, Minn. — While the Rainy River here is a world-class multi-species fishery, one fish species has long been heads and tail fins above the rest in popularity.
The city park here in Baudette is a reflection of that. At river’s edge in the heart of town is Willie Walleye Park, which later this summer will feature a new-and-improved Willie Walleye statue – the centerpiece of the park and this riverside fishing community on the edge of Lake of the Woods.
Sauger, sturgeon, muskie and pike also are popular here in far northwestern Minnesota but don’t warrant nearly the attention of walleyes. And there certainly isn’t an ode to bass – no Billie Bass here.
And while this lake/river community will continue to embrace walleyes with a host of state, regional and even national walleye tournaments this summer, it’s hoped that an addition to the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River tourney slate could shine some light on what is quietly becoming a legitimate bass-fishing destination.
Two-person teams from across the Midwest will compete July 15 in a Cabela’s North American Bass Circuit tournament on the Rainy River. Tournament boundaries include U.S. and Canadian waters of the Rainy from the Wheeler’s Point access near where the river empties into Lake of the Woods and upstream past Willie Walleye and Baudette to Nelson Park at Birchdale to the east, a 42-mile stretch of the river.
“I don’t fish for bass, but every time I fish the river in the summertime I catch bass accidentally,” said Joe Henry, executive director of the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau. “Walleye tournaments always seem to end up in the river (with competitors accidentally) catching smallmouths. There’s a lot of (bass) in the lake, too. But we’re holding it in the river because there’s plenty of water there. But on the lake, at Four Mile Bay, Zippel Bay … Oh my gosh, they just crush the smallmouths. But for the sake of the first tournament, we’ll start on the river.”
With the hope of starting a love affair with bass, too.
“It gets no love,” Henry said of the Rainy River/Lake of the Woods bass fishery, which includes largemouths but is a legitimate smallmouth hot spot, he said. “I don’t know what will happen (in the tournament), but hopefully people who are following bass fishing will see a ton of smallies, that get no respect. Most (anglers) are focused on walleyes or sturgeon or muskies, and pike get some love in March and April. Other than that, it’s all walleye and sauger.
“With the state of Minnesota putting more into marketing for bass fishing, we thought it would be a good time to make folks aware of the wonderful bass fishery here,” Henry added. “The river gets traffic in the spring and fall, but in the summertime you can have it to yourself. There will be a few people sturgeon fishing, but very few bass fishing. We’ll see how they (NABC anglers) figure it out. We’ll dip our big toe in the water and check it out.”
Take-off and weigh-ins will be held at – you guessed it – Willie Walleye Park, where that new Willie Walleye statue could be ready: The decades-old, deteriorating concrete Willie is being replaced with a new, longer-lasting fiberglass version, Henry said, adding that the new Willie will be in place sometime soon after the Fourth of July.
In the two days leading up to the NABC tourney, the Baudette area will also play host to the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit for the first time, July 13-14 out of Border View Lodge on Lake of the Woods. The two-person team circuit is walleye fishing’s longest-running professional team tournament series, Henry said.
A week before the area’s first NABC and MWC action, the Baudette area kicks off its notable open-water tournament schedule with the return of the Minnesota Tournament Trail, with two one-day tournaments July 6 and July 7 on Lake of the Woods. The first is a “photo release tournament” – the first time the MTT will utilize that format on Lake of the Woods. The July 7 event is a traditional weight tourney. The MTT Championship also will be held on Lake of the Woods, again out of Border View Lodge, on Sept. 13-14.
The Anglers Insight Marketing (AIM) Weekend Walleye Series Minnesota State Championship is Aug. 18-19 out of the Wigwam Resort on Lake of the Woods, followed by the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour (NWT) Championship, Sept. 5-7 out of Sportsman’s Lodge on Lake of the Woods.
“The biggest walleye tournament series in the land is the NWT,” Henry said. “Amateur anglers have the chance to be teamed up with a different pro each day of the tournament, can learn from some of the best walleye anglers in the country, and also have the chance to win fishing gear and trophies through the event. For walleye anglers wanting the opportunity to really increase their knowledge of walleye fishing … this is a wonderful opportunity.”