Most area anglers are ready for open-water season
The ice fishing season is pretty much over in the Bemidji area with most public accesses breaking up along the shoreline, making it difficult for anglers to get on the lakes.
A few anglers will continue to ice fish until they can no longer get on the ice but most anglers are ready to make the switch from ice fishing to open water.
The first place many anglers from the Bemidji area fish open water in the spring is on the Rainy River, which runs between Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake on the Canadian border.
The Rainy River has a spring walleye season that runs until April 14. Anglers are also allowed to catch and release sturgeon until April 23. The spring walleye limit is two walleyes less than 19.5 inches.
River fishing is different than fishing in lakes because the fish have to constantly battle the current. The current always has an impact on the fish movement.
Fishing in the Rainy River usually keeps getting better during the spring walleye season as long as the water stays clear and the visibility is good.
Water in the Rainy River has a coffee-colored stain. When rain washes into the river the clay and mud colors the water, similar to adding creamer to coffee. When that happens the visibility drops to a couple of inches or less and the fishing suffers accordingly.
Most walleyes in the Rainy River in the spring come from Lake of the Woods and are migrating up river to spawn.
The walleyes will continue their spawning journey until they reach the specific portion of the river where they plan to spawn.
When walleyes migrate, they usually pass over the shallow sections of the river quickly and only stop to feed and rest in the deeper sections of the river.
The current keeps presentations like crankbaits or spinner rigs moving, even if they are actually standing still in the water.
Anglers can attack the current in many different ways. They can slide down river with the current, slowing themselves with a trolling motor or outboard motor.
Anglers can also troll slowly up river against the current. Another option is anchoring in a key location and casting baits, bottom fishing or fishing vertically under the boat.
Anglers usually need to use heavier baits to overcome the current, keep in good contact with the bottom and avoid having to let out too much line to reach the bottom.
Jigs from one-quarter to one-half ounce are usually heavy enough to stay on the bottom in most current situations. Artificial baits or jigs with spinner blades usually have to be worked into the current to prevent the lures from tumbling downstream.
Fish often feed along current breaks which can be created by points, turns in the river, wing dams, boulders or the edges of steep drop-offs. Current breaks are anywhere fish can hide to avoid the main force of the current.
Water levels can affect fish location in rivers. High water forces the fish out of the current and into the shoreline or backwaters. Low water forces fish towards the deep holes and the middle of the river.
Fish in current are usually more active and aggressive when they feed because they burn more calories constantly fighting the current.
Anglers can also fish for sturgeon during the spring walleye season but all sturgeon must be released, regardless of size.
Sturgeon often travel in groups and will usually stay in the deeper portions of the river. They rely heavily on their sense of smell to help them locate their prey so most anglers anchor in deep water and bottom fish for sturgeon.
Anglers fishing for sturgeon should experiment with different baits and try adding scents to help the sturgeon locate their baits. Anglers planning to try fishing for sturgeon should remember to bring an anchor with plenty of rope and a big landing net.
A camera is also a good idea since walleyes larger than 19.5 inches and sturgeon of all sizes must be released.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.