Fishing guide Scott Matthews is enthusiastic about Rainy Lake's rebound. "This is the best I've ever seen Rainy Lake," said Matthews, a 15-year guide associated with Thunderbird Lodge. "The slot limit has produced a fishery that is just unbelievable."
Rainy Lake suffered from years of over fishing. As a result, commercial fishing was banned in the 1980's. In 1994, the DNR moved to protect fish 17 to 25 inches. Later, the protected slot was lengthened to 28 inches.
"Big fish and lots of 'em," Matthews said. He's seen several fish over 30 inches caught this year. The numbers of fish at the 17-inch mark are increasing too. And there's a bonus: sauger, which don't have slot requirements. Matthews said he recently had an 18-inch sauger and one 20 incher in his bag limit.
Rainy Lake is at the western edge of a series of lakes along the Minnesota-Ontario border. Minnesota's portion is 54,000 acres. But Matthews said it's the Canadian side that attracts the most interest in spring, when small rock and sand bays warm up first and attract spawning walleyes. In June warm water pushes the fish to reefs in deep water and to wind-blown points.
"This lake is wind-critical," Matthews said. "Many times you can just follow the wind."
Summer patterns hold until September, when walleyes are drawn to the currents of feeder creeks, such as Kettle Falls. With water levels down, Matthews is uncertain how important a role current will play in the fall of 2003. In normal years, when both dams on Kettle Falls are open, the flow draws fish.
With low water come challenges and a word of caution.
"There are two kinds of boaters on Rainy Lake," Matthews said. "Those who have hit rocks and those who are going to hit rocks. Be careful, consult your map and watch your sonar."
Another good spot when current is present is the Brule Narrows, a mile-and-a-half stretch that pinches the lake nearly in two.
Matthews' clients use Lindy rigs with either the NO-SNAGG or classic pancake-shaped Lindy sinkers. Leader length is 5 to 6 feet long. Heavy braided line, like Stren's new Super Braid in 20-pound test, helps avoid break offs. If you get hung up merely pull the hook straight to free it. Hook size should be a No. 4 or No. 6, which can handle leeches, nightcrawlers and minnows, including chubs, shiners and rainbows.
Matthews travels to a reef, finds the peak and marks it with a buoy. He then starts down the side somewhere near 34 feet and slowly works up to 17 feet, while searching for the productive depth. Matthews tells clients to set the hook as soon as they feel the bite. Otherwise, the walleyes will often swallow it. Dead fish can be the result. "If you give them a 10-count here, you're killing fish," he said.
While some in his boat use Lindy rigs, Matthews casts Lindy Techni-Glo jigs, a technique that allows him to cover more water in order to find active schools. He never anchors.
As water temperature cools, walleyes become more aggressive. Matthews will then switch to vertical jigging Techni-Glo jigs. He sticks with braided line, but ties it to a barrel swivel. He then ties on a foot-and-a-half of 20-pound fluorocarbon line. He avoids snags by hovering more vertically over structure. Use your bow mount electric trolling motor to maintain position and slowly work over targeted reefs. Autumn also finds Matthews casting minnow-imitating crankbaits, such as Reef Runners, to shorelines. For more info on Rainy Lake, contact Scott Matthews at (218)742-1763.
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