Targeting Walleyes on Rainy Lake Reefs
Lake is one of those classic fisheries that is associated with great Minnesota angling. Although it is known for holding quality small mouth and giant northern, it is without a doubt one of the finest walleye fisheries a person could ever find.
This is the reason that every summer I get together with a group of enthusiastic walleye anglers and head north to Island View Lodge on Rainy Lake. Although we could schedule our adventure for any part of the open water season, we always go in mid-summer to take advantage of the incredible reef fishing opportunities.
Rainy Lake walleyes don’t spend all summer on the reefs. In June and through the first part of July, Rainy walleyes are relating more to shoreline structure than they are to mid lake reefs. And yes, it is all about the food.
Starting in July, the lake makes a transition to summer patterns. This includes the migration of baitfish to deeper water.
Since Rainy is loaded with mid lake structure that tops off in 20 to 35 feet of water, these reefs become the focal point for much of the baitfish activity. When the food moves deep, so do the predator fish that depend on them.
The key to successful reef fishing is to find fish. The walleyes don’t spend all day on tops of the reefs looking for food. They move up, feed, and slide back into open water. The baitfish are doing the same.
The mistake some anglers often make is to spend great amounts of time on a reef that isn’t holding fish. A person may pick up a stray here and there, but quality angling cannot take place if there are very few fish to catch.
Our group of anglers has developed a milk run of spots that we check every day. There aren’t a lot of places to hide on top of these reefs so walleyes and baitfish show up very well on sonar units. If we aren’t marking fish, we keep looking until we locate a reef that does show activity.
Many times, the action on top of a reef will only last an hour. Once the walleyes are done feeding, they leave. When this happens, we are off to check out other reefs in hopes of locating another active school.
As for presentation, we have found that minnows work well all summer on Rainy. However, leeches and crawlers will also catch fish. We always take all three along with us because we never know which bait is going to be the best for that particular day.
Although a jig and minnow can be hard to beat, we have learned that a live-bait rig on a light leader and some type of snag reducing pencil weight is extremely effective. The trick here is to not drag the sinker through the rocks. When we do get snagged, the long, skinny weights are easier to retrieve out of the rocks than standard weights.
Rainy Lake is definitely a fishery for all seasons. However, we have found that the summer reef fishing offers some of the best angling opportunities of the entire year. It is the high level of success and the quantity of big fish that keeps us going back year after year.