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Spring walleye season coming to an end on Rainy River

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This is the last weekend of the spring walleye season on the Rainy River. The season closes at midnight on Sunday.

The 2012 Minnesota fishing licenses will expire on April 30 but anglers can purchase their new 2013 Minnesota licenses at most bait shops.

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The poor ice conditions on the lakes made the Rainy River a popular destination for many anglers this past week. The walleye fishing has been good on the Rainy River, despite the crowded conditions and the need to dodge ice chunks while trying to fish and navigate the river.

Anglers have been catching and releasing many larger walleyes and also hooking an occasional sturgeon on their walleye tackle. Most boats have had no problem catching their limit of two walleyes under 19.5 inches and some anglers have been catching and releasing literally dozens of walleyes in a good day of fishing.

Jigs and minnows are the most popular presentation for most anglers on the Rainy River but just saying a “jig and minnow” leaves room for interpretation.

Anglers familiar with river fishing will often use heavier jigs than the average angler uses to fish walleyes in lakes.

Many anglers like to use the lightest jig they can while still being able to keep in good contact with the bottom. Most anglers fishing in lakes seldom use a jig heavier than one-quarter ounce.

The opposite is often true in river fishing. Many successful river anglers will use whatever weight jig they need to keep their presentations directly under the boat, even if it takes more than a one-half ounce jig to do the job.

Heavy jigs give anglers more control of their presentations and give them better feel, especially in current. If anglers have good feel of the bottom they immediately know how hard the bottom is and when there are rocks or gravel under the boat.

Anglers can pound the bottom harder with heavy jigs, creating more noise and a larger puff when they strike the bottom. Those actions often help predators locate the bait. If the fish can’t see it, feel it or hear it, they will have trouble eating it.

Anglers can drag heavy jigs on the bottom and be able to stop them without having the jig get swept down river by the current. If the jig is too light, anglers may not be able to stop their jigs on the bottom.

Anglers can find the bottom more quickly with a heavy jig and then be able to lift the jig a few inches off the bottom and hold it steady. If the jig is too light, it will get lifted by the current and rise toward the surface when anglers try to suspend it off the bottom.

The down side of heavier jigs is less aggressive fish may short-hit the bait and not get the whole jig into their mouth when they bite. Short-hitting is usually less of a problem in rivers than in lakes because river fish have to deal with the current and usually hit a jig harder when they bite.

The shape of the jig head can also make a difference in the current. Round heads are not as aerodynamic as pill shaped jigs or jigs with a more slender head, which cut through the current better.

Propeller jigs can work well in current because the blade on the jigs keeps turning, even when the jigs are not moving.

Most anglers target larger walleyes when they fish the Rainy River in the spring. A heavy jig with a big minnow gives large walleyes a target that is closer to their preferred size of prey.

Anglers wanting to extend the ice fishing season have been using snowmobiles or ATVs to access the lakes. There is a double layer of ice in most lakes. If anglers break through the first layer of ice with a vehicle, they will probably get hung up on the frame and become very stuck.

Stream trout fishing in rivers and streams opens on Saturday. The snow and ice in many areas will greatly reduce the number of anglers participating in the trout opener.

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Paul Nelson
Paul Nelson writes a weekly fishing column for the Bemidji Pioneer. He runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service.
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