There is a piece of Minnesota bordering Canada that absolutely shines when the leaves start to turn colors. This area boasts world class fishing and a surrounding environment full of wildlife with thousands of acres of public hunting. Spending fall days on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods with the fall migration literally right outside your cabin door isn’t a bad scenario at all. If you are someone who likes hunting and fishing, this area some call “Destination Cast and Blast” is definitely worth exploring!
The first part of “Cast and Blast” is Cast.
Fall fishing in these parts is nothing short of world class. Most anglers think of walleyes and muskies this time of year. Actually, the fall is a time the sturgeon also put the feed bag on. The chance to catch a fish weighing 50-100 lb. from the Rainy River is an exciting adventure for most. Anchoring up over a deep hole in the river offers great sturgeon action while taking in the annual fall migration along the Rainy at the same time.
The majority of anglers during the fall take advantage of Lake of the Woods’ reputation as The Walleye Capital of the World. It is estimated there are millions of walleyes swimming in the lake. To no surprise, limits of walleyes are the norm this time of the year with the go to method a jig and frozen emerald shiner jigged over the side of the boat. Certainly, there are anglers who pull spinners or crankbaits with success, but a frozen shiner being such a loved food source by the walleyes with its delicious scent and shiny scales is tough to beat.
Resort fishing guides stay on the walleyes very well in these parts. When the walleyes move around, the guides share info with each other via marine band radio or text messaging to stay on fish. This ultimately creates a high success rate for visitors. Some charters fish the lake, others take advantage of the annual fall run on the Rainy River. The point is, local guides are dialed in on the walleyes.
Each fall, emerald shiners run up the river with walleyes following close behind. This creates great walleye fishing opportunities up and down the river for anglers. As the river is not overly wide, smaller 14 ft. boats up to charter boats can take advantage of the good fishing. Excellent fall walleye fishing happens throughout the 42 miles of navigable waters of the Rainy River.
Up at the NW Angle, walleyes steal most of the attention as well. However, there are plenty of anglers who are targeting muskies this time of year. With its 14,552 islands, Lake of the Woods is known for big muskies as well as numbers of fish.
The NW Angle is nestled right in the middle of the thousands of islands, offering anglers a great spot for home base. Anglers have access to a variety of structure from rock points, reefs, saddles, cabbage, neck down areas with current and the list goes on.
Another targeted fish around the Angle in the fall are the big black crappies. These fish school up and get big. Crappies reaching the 17” mark are realistic, with the average size being 12-15”. Most fish them with jigs and minnows similar to the walleyes. Crappies of this size have no problem inhaling a standard sized jig and minnow.
The many hunting opportunities in this region are still a secret to many. Perhaps the great walleye fishing steals the attention, but whatever the reason, some very unique and good hunting is available.
There are literally thousands of acres of public hunting available to hunters in the area and available land combined with big numbers of grouse lead to some memorable shoots.
There are many forests available to hunt with thousands of acres of public hunting available, and one of the gems is Beltrami Island State Forest. A huge, diverse wooded area loaded with ruffed grouse and woodcock await hunters. There are a myriad of dirt roads, ATV trails and designated walking trails created by the local Ruffed Grouse Society. Walking trails have parking, nice signage showing the trail on the map and the trail actually makes a loop ultimately leading hunters right back to their vehicles.
Many ruffed grouse, otherwise known as “chickens of the north woods” live in these wooded areas and lead to excellent hunting opportunities and delicious table fare.
There are three species of grouse in these parts. Besides the ruffed, spruce grouse and sharp tailed grouse are also available. Spruce grouse tend to be found in areas with a lot of pine trees. Their meat is darker as is the bird itself.
Sharpies tend to live on or adjacent to agricultural areas. These birds thrive in the area but can be challenging to find with thousands of acres of farmland.
Just south of the big open expanses of Lake of the Woos are thousands of acres of agricultural land. To say goose hunting is good is an understatement. Hunting out of layout blinds, hunter success rates are high. The majority of the birds are Canadian Geese however some snows and blues will come through on occasion.
The other great waterfowl hunting opportunity is for ducks. It is fun to observe avid duck hunters new to the area work on their own with digital maps to determine where they think the best opportunities are. On the south shore, there are various bays and ditches off of the main lake. As with many hunting situations, a bit of homework and scouting can lead to some memorable shoots.
As the fall progresses, many of the diver ducks from Canada make their way through the area. Often times, literally thousands of diver ducks including bluebills, buffleheads, ring bills, red heads and canvasbacks fly through. These divers often stage around the islands of the NW Angle and many island points are excellent areas to shoot. Sometimes the best cover is to hide behind a rock. These birds will eventually make their way to the bays on the south shore offering yet another opportunity.
After larger quarry? There are certainly opportunities in these parts. With so much public hunting land, deer hunters have much to choose from. The population of deer is strong with some real brutes roaming around. Each year, nice whitetail bucks well over 210 lb. are shot.
Black bear hunters also experience excellent hunting. Permits need to be applied for well in advance of the season. If you are drawn, the success level is extremely high.