When I think of walleye fishing, the first thing that comes to my mind is Lake of the Woods in Minnesota. So, when the opportunity for my wife and I to spend a couple days in northern Minnesota the third week of June this year to fish for walleyes, we jumped on it.
Making the 14-hour drive from the sweltering heat of southern Illinois, to the mild temperatures of the walleye fishing capital of the world was a welcome relief. Being able to trade our tank tops that we were accustomed to wearing at home for hoodies was welcomed with open arms.
Our accommodations were at the River Bend’s Resort nestled along the banks of the Rainy River. Their spacious cabins had everything we needed to cook meals, rest comfortably, and if the need be, we had cable TV. But, I don’t believe the TV was ever flicked on during our stay. Why would it? The beauty of the area was all the entertainment we needed.
Unfortunately, do to fishing captains being out for personal reasons, River Bend was not able to provide us one of their vessels to fish from. Instead, they made arrangements with Border View Lodge to have one of their captains to pick us up on the dock at our resort, and to take us fishing.
On our first morning to fish, a vessel pulled up to the dock, and out jumped the Captain, Captain Foxy to be exact. Captain Foxy quickly greeted us, introduced us to the three other anglers onboard, and we were off.
The ride down the Rainy River was like riding on glass. The lake was a different story, as Mother Nature provided us with 20mph winds, causing whitecaps to form on the big lake. After traveling 24 miles across the lake, lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes, we came to a slow speed.
It did not take long for the electronics to start marking fish, and for the captain to drop anchor. We had to make quick work of catching fish because we had a shore lunch planned. Unless we wanted to eat just fried potatoes and baked beans, we were going to have to catch some fish.
Soon, my wife Lotte caught a respectable walleye, and the rest of the anglers quickly followed suit. Walleye after walleye, and the occasional sauger were tossed in the cooler. Even though there is no minimum length limit, any fish we caught under 15-inches was quickly released to be caught another time.
Our fishing tactics were about as simple as they come. We were fishing in 24-feet of water, using a 3/8-ounce jig tipped either with a leech or dead shiner. We lowered our jig to the bottom, and simply jigged it up about a foot off the bottom, and let it fall back down. The fish were biting aggressive for us. Often times, as we were raising the rod, a fish attacked the bait and was hooked. Then it was simply a matter of reeling it to the surface to be netted.
After 3 hours of fishing, we had 24 of the 30 fish needed for a day’s limit. The walleye/sauger limit on Lake of the Woods is an aggregate limit of 6 (not more than 4 can be walleye). Walleye and sauger between 19 ½ and 28-inches must be released immediately. Only one walleye over 28-inches total length can be possessed though.
As hard as it was, we pulled anchor and met up with another vessel from Border View Lodge for a shore lunch. The weatherman was predicting stronger winds to settle in mid-afternoon, so we made quick time of preparing and eating the lunch. We still had 6 fish to catch.
After lunch, captain Foxy parked us on top of where we had been before we departed to eat. Now, all we could hope for was that the fish stuck around for us to get back. Quickly, my pole bent over and I pulled up a nice sauger. The sauger was a welcome sight because we could only catch one more walleye before we had to begin releasing them. It didn’t take long before another angler caught a walleye, the last walleye we needed for the day. Now that we had all the walleye we were allowed, it was down to catching the last few sauger to get our limit for the day.
With the winds picking up, we were down to needing just one more sauger. The captains were communicating with one another, and decided for the safety of all on the water, they would convoy back to the Rainy River a little earlier than they had planned. That left us with 30 minutes to catch one sauger. In those 30 minutes, our poles continued to double over. But, instead of catching that one much needed sauger, all we were catching were pesky walleyes in the 15 to 18-inch range, and a few that were 20 to 25-inches long that would have to had been released regardless.
It became a joke among us on the boat that the walleyes were becoming a nuisance, that all we needed was one sauger, but all we were catching were those pesky walleyes. If you can’t catch the one sauger you need, I can’t think of a better way to fail than by catching a bunch of walleye.
Reluctantly, we had to pull anchor one fish shy of our limit. But, no fish is worth your life, and the captains made a good call to put the safety of their passengers first and foremost. The ride back was as rough as we expected. It was nice to see all the captains working together, not leaving a boat behind. If a boat were to breakdown in the middle of the lake alone, it would get very dangerous in a hurry.
Our experience at Lake of the Woods was one I will never forget. The accommodations at River Bend’s Resort were more than we could ask for. The friendly staff, comfortable cabins, and delicious meals served in the restaurant were above are expectations.
It was great seeing the two resorts working together to make sure we had an enjoyable and productive day on the water. Unlike some areas of the country I have fished before, there was no competition between lodges. They have a very good working relationship among all the lodges in the area.
The part that impressed me the most was seeing how all the captains worked together to make sure all the boats made it safely off the water. As I sit in the back of the boat and watched the string of vessels heading in, I got a sense of pride for these men and women who make it their job to ensure that we caught fish, but above all else, stay safe doing so.
If you have never fished Lake of the Woods for walleye, sauger or any other fish, you owe yourself the pleasure. To get in touch with River Bend’s Resort, visit www.riversbendsresort.com. Contact Border View at www.borderviewlodge.com.
For more information about Lake of the Woods, visit www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com.