Lake of the Woods is a vast body of water located on the U.S. / Canada border. It is known as The Walleye Capital of the World as the lake and Rainy River are home to literally millions of walleyes, trophy walleyes and a fishery that kicks out good fish 12 month a year.
The lake has 14,552 islands, over 65,000 miles of shoreline and just about every kind of fish holding areas anglers look for. There are so many places to fish. There are so many ways to fish. Where do you start? With its sheer size and so many choices, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your Lake of the Woods fishing trip.
Initially, consider a guide or jump on a charter. If this is your first time to the lake or you simply want a relaxing fishing trip, much learning can take place by fishing a couple of days with someone who really knows and understands the water. I like to say your first time up you get a good lay of the land and then decide if you would bring your own boat or rent a boat your next time up. Nearly everything you need, rods, reels, tackle, bait, fish cleaning and a very high probability of fishing success is included.
Do your homework. The fish are always biting somewhere on Lake of the Woods. The trick is to find the fish and have an understanding of what techniques the walleyes are responding to the best. The info is out there, you just have to look for it prior to your trip. Lake of the Woods Tourism puts out a weekly fishing report that gives you a good starting point. After that, resort Facebook pages, talking to your resort prior to arriving, and bait shops can be good resources before you hit the water. Check out a map so you have a lay of the land prior to coming up. Navionics has a good map online for free as well as an inexpensive map app for your smart phone with most lakes including LOW.
Most fish are caught close to the bottom. You will mark a lot of fish with your electronics. Some are suspended and at times, these fish are caught. The vast majority of fish caught during the open water season on Lake of the Woods are relating to the bottom of the lake. Regardless of whether you are jigging, pulling spinners or trolling crankbaits, the fish you are most likely to catch are fish on the bottom. On occasion, tournament anglers will target suspended fish with success, but more often than not, they are tough to catch.
Colors of lures. The water on the Rainy River and LOW are stained, meaning the tannins from the bogs and other plants in the watershed causes the water to have that light brown or rusty color. This is actually a plus for walleye anglers as the fish will bite during the day and are less spooked. The go to color in this stained water is gold. As one old timer put it, “You can use any color you want, as long as it’s gold.” Other bright colors such as orange, chartreuse, pink and glow are good also, but gold or a combo of gold and these other colors are dynamite.
Get your jig on! Anchored up and jigging with a jig and frozen shiner is the ticket much of the year when the water is colder and fish are schooled up more. April, May, June, September, October and November as a rule of thumb are good jigging months. Walleyes here prefer the bait vertical, rather than being drifted or trolled. The walleyes and saugers move around a lot and if you are anchored up in an area with fish, they will find you.
Drifting or trolling crawler harnesses. When water temps are above 50 degrees, usually June – September, snelled spinners can be really good. The spinner has flash and vibration. That teamed up with a minnow or crawler is tough for a walleye to resist. The fact you can cover water when fish are spread out is another plus to this technique. It flat out puts fish in the boat.
Crankin’. Trolling crankbaits is a strong technique on most bodies of water including LOW. Believe it or not, there aren’t many months pulling cranks doesn’t work. In the early spring or fall on the Rainy River, puling cranks in cold water can be really effective. Normally slowing down to 1.5 – 2 mph is a good rule of thumb. This technique covers water, will help you locate fish, produces reaction strikes and allows you to put your bait in the faces of many fish which normally leads to success. In the months of July – September, anglers will troll the basin of LOW which is from 32-37 feet of water with great success. Downriggers, leadcore line or large bottom bouncers 3 – 4 ounces with a 6’ fluorocarbon leader and shallow diving crank will get your lures down to the fish.
Pay attention to the charter boats. Charter boats are extremely effective at catching fish. Licensed charter captains spend a lot of time on the water and know what is happening. They also are networked with other guides and their business is to catch their guest’s fish and of course make sure they are having a good time. There is plenty of water on LOW to give them their space, but pay attention to where they are fishing and what they are doing.
Dress for success. It’s northern Minnesota. Some days might be 90 degrees. Other days the same time of year, you need a sweatshirt in the morning. Be sure to dress in layers, have rain gear in case of showers, bring sun screen and a good pair of shades.
Know the fish limits and have proper tools on board. There is a slot limit on LOW in which walleyes between 19.5 inches – 28 inches must be released. Anglers can keep a combined limit of walleyes / saugers of 6 per person with no more than four being walleyes. Only one walleye over 28” is allowed. Having a reliable measuring device is necessary as you will catch some nice walleyes in the slot along with your eaters and maybe even a trophy or two.
In addition to these tips, we encourage guests to have your cell phones charged up for both communicating and for taking pics of big fish. Some find it helpful to bring on board a backup battery pack.
Good food is part of the adventure. Eat at resorts, cook in your cabin or both. Sometimes resorts offer meal plans called the “American Plan” that includes meals with your lodging and fishing package at reduced rates.
On most trips, Lake of the Woods does not disappoint. This is a very good fishery. With that being said, there is a lot of water and having some basic tips can really put the odds of a successful fishing trip in your favor.
The lodging community is very accommodating. Whether you bring your own boat and food or utilize the resort packages, there are lots of ways to enjoy the area. In today’s world, creating special times like a fishing trip with friends or family is more important than ever. Knowing a few tips prior to your trip can make all the difference in the world.
Charter boat… Charter boats are a great way to experience fishing success on Lake of the Woods. They provide a licensed charter captain to put you on fish, rods, reels, tackle bait and even fish cleaning. They are easy, relaxing and very successful.
Joe Henry… The author with a big walleye caught jigging from a charter boat. Anchored up and vertical jigging is very effective much of the year on Lake of the Woods. In most cases, LOW walleyes prefer the vertical presentation with a jig vs moving around.
Four Mile Bay… If you are bringing your own boat to LOW, it is helpful to do a bit of homework. An app like Navionics Boating on your smartphone is not only helpful ahead of time looking at navigation and potential fishing areas but also a nice backup on the water.