Tuesday, March 28th, 2023
Tuesday, March 28th, 2023

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Minnesota border waters likely to see high spring fishing traffic

The Rainy River is a top destination for spring anglers, and sturgeon often are at the top of the list for Rainy anglers. A catch and release season runs until April 23. (Photos courtesy of DNR)

Baudette, Minn. — The 2023-24 fishing season officially began March 1 but fishing opportunities have been ongoing. While inland Minnesota lakes have similar rules and regulations, border waters with Canada, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas have different regs.

The Rainy River is one of the most popular rivers to fish along the Canadian border. There are plenty of trophy fish in its waters, but anglers need to be aware of the rules.

Matt Skoog, Baudette fisheries area supervisor for the DNR, said the most popular fish in the Rainy are walleyes, sauger, lake sturgeon, northern pike, and smallmouth bass. Depending on the time of year, some fish are easier to catch than others.

“On the Rainy River, that spring catch-and-release season is very popular,” Skoog said. “You’re fishing primarily for pre-spawn walleyes. The chances of catching a nice walleye are pretty high.”

Skoog said the walleye bite is strong in the spring, but there’s a catch-and-release regulation from March 1 through April 14, then the season is totally closed. From May 13 to Feb. 29, 2024, anglers may harvest walleyes from the river. (The spring Rainy River C&R regulation began in 2019.)

The possession limit is six combined with sauger, and only four of the six may be walleyes. Only one walleye can be over 28 inches, and any between 19.5 and 28 inches need to be released immediately.

Skoog said the lake sturgeon bite is usually there in the spring and throughout the summer. That fish species is in its recovering stages on the Rainy, but it’s moving in the right direction. DNR Fisheries is trying to balance keeping the population strong while allowing anglers an opportunity to harvest this fish species.

“The lake sturgeon population is still in our recovery phase of our lake sturgeon recovery plan,” Skoog said. “We’re moving further along in the recovery. Our numbers are good and there’s a lot of fish out there that can be caught.”

The lake sturgeon regulations change throughout the year. It’s catch and release from Oct. 1 through April 23 as well as May 8-15. There’s also a closed season where you can’t fish for lake sturgeon from May 16 to June 30.

The harvest seasons are from April 24 through May 7 and July 1 to Sept. 30. An angler must purchase a lake sturgeon tag to harvest, and the angler must report harvest to the DNR. The possession limit is one per calendar year, and the fish must be 45 to 50 inches (inclusive) or over 75 inches.

The northern pike bite usually accelerates in May. The pike season is continuous on the Rainy River with a possession limit of three. All pike from 30 to 40 inches must be released, and only one kept may be over 40 inches.

“There are a lot of big pike out there to be had,” Skoog said. “Pretty much all of the tributaries to the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods were meeting or exceeding our (population) objectives, and a lot of them have been trending upwards.”

Skoog recommends people fish for walleyes during the catch-and-release season. He said the walleyes caught during this time can be big, which makes the fishing fun. The walleyes typically are around in large numbers until tributary rivers open, and then the bite for walleyes usually is challenging.

As for populations, Skoog said the walleye population has a variety of sizes and ages in the Rainy River to keep that population growing each year.

Lake sturgeon are recovering, and Skoog said that’s the main priority heading into the future for Baudette fisheries.

Skoog recommends that anglers understand the Rainy River before fishing on it because it’s an international water border with Canada. Most state border waters require that you either have one of the two states’ licenses, but with international waters, it’s different.

If you are on the Canadian side, you must have a license from Canada and follow Canadian regulations. Skoog suggests that anglers become familiar with where the border is in the river before going out and fishing that water body.

Fishing Dakota border waters

There are three key bodies of water along the Dakota border and they include Lake Traverse, Big Stone Lake, and Lake Hendricks. BJ Bauer, Ortonville area fisheries specialist for the DNR, said these three lakes have different fish and different time periods to easily catch them.

It’s an open season for the three lakes, and that’s a recent regulation change for Dakota border waters. This means higher angler pressure in the early months until inland lakes have fishing opener.

“We haven’t seen any negative effects,” Bauer said. “Sometimes with poor fishing weather, even before that traditional fishing opener, fishing really doesn’t get going until that traditional opener date anyway.”

Bauer said the walleye and bass fisheries are excelling in these lakes, and he expects them to stay consistent. Lake Traverse is known for walleyes, while Big Stone Lake has seen an increase with bluegills and crappies from an increase in vegetation.

Bauer added that Lake Hendricks is a smaller lake, meaning the water warms up sooner. He said there shouldn’t be winterkill on the lake, which makes it better for fishing early with the focus on walleyes, perch, and white bass.

“This year (Hendricks) seems OK. We don’t expect to see a fish kill down there,” Bauer said. “On Traverse and Big Stone, oxygen is low compared to other years for this time of year, but we’re not expecting a big fish kill.”

Fishing the Mississippi River along the border

Like the Dakota border waters, the Mississippi River (from Prescott to the Iowa border) has an open season for catching game fish species. Kevin Stauffer, Lake City DNR Fisheries area supervisor, said the open season means more angler pressure from March to early May.

“Right now, we’re getting a lot of boat fishing pressure already from basically the Red Wing area to Lock and Dam 3,” Stauffer said.

He added that the river has pretty much every freshwater fish species in the region, and it’s a great place to fish. One of the most popular spots to fish is Lake Pepin, which is within the Mississippi River.

Some of the top fish to focus on for Lake Pepin include walleyes, perch, bass, and sauger. Stauffer suggests fishing that lake in late March to early April for some of the best bites.

Parts of the river likely will see high water from April to May with the snow and ice melting. This could make it tough for fishing and gaining access to the river.

Stauffer said the population has been strong for walleyes and sauger with 13- to 14-inch sauger in the early spring. The yellow perch have grown over the past eight to 10 years with many 12-inch perch now.

The only fish that Stauffer sees decreasing could be white bass, but he added that there are good year-classes coming up, with 10- to 12-inch bass coming up soon.

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