The early season on Lake of the Woods is typically about walleyes. Most anglers anchor up and jig with a minnow with good success. The walleye fishing happens everywhere from the Rainy River to near shore areas of Big Traverse Bay and up throughout the Northwest Angle. There is another proven technique, however, that most anglers neglect in their preference to “follow the pack” to walleye nirvana. This technique will get you off on your own, will produce multi-species of fish including walleyes, gets you up close and personal with wildlife and really gives a different perspective of the watershed. The technique involves hunting for fish by casting high producing areas such as bays, points and shorelines around the lake and Rainy River.
In many cases, shoreline casting success stories shared with me are from anglers new to Lake of the Woods. These are anglers who don’t have a good handle on how people traditionally fish these waters and they just go fishing. Some of the stories relate to catching beautiful fish adjacent to and up the tributaries that enter the Rainy River. These areas have current, some weed growth, bait, and is stained water that will hold shallow fish.
One story in particular struck me. As a group of college buddies meet at a local resort each summer to connect, most go out on a charter boat and catch walleyes. One of the group lives in the twin cities and pulls his boat up. He grabs a couple of buddies and heads upriver when the vast majority of the fishing is happening on the lake. He talks about catching pike with fish approaching 40” each year, nice smallmouth bass, and occasional walleyes. Their lure choice is typically a spinnerbait. Walleyes on a spinnerbait? Stained water, flash, ambush situation in areas where walleyes are looking to feed, yes walleyes. They do a milk run each day hitting the mouth of tributaries on the Rainy River, up into the tributaries as far as they can navigate and other “fishy” looking areas with great success.
The south end of the lake also has a few bays that can hold good fish. Four Mile Bay is the area between the mouth of the Rainy River and mouth of Bostic Creek separated from the main basin of the lake by Pine Island. Although fairly shallow, the water is stained and there is some current and a variety of bait. A good place to start is the edge of both channels that transition into the bay. Fish the break anywhere from 5-10’.
Getting into the bay itself, waters run from 4-8’. Walleyes will hold traditionally near river edges or in weed patches. Pike can be anywhere as well as big smallmouth bass. Four Mile Bay is the size of an inland lake with scattered reeds, underwater vegetation and an occasional log.
Bostic Creek is located on the west end of Four Mile Bay and the lake through the Morris Point gap. Fish can be up in the creek which is more like a long bay all the way to the lake. It is surprising how many walleyes will be holding in 5-7’ of water in areas just behind Pine Island. Don’t be afraid to work reed patches or other patches of submerged vegetation.
Going west along the south end of the lake, Zippel Bay is another gem off the radar map for many. Prior to the MN Fishing Opener, anglers target big pike in the bay. As LOW is border waters with Canada, the pike season is continuous and never closes. Pike swim these waters and anglers will target them starting at ice out. Big pike use this area early in the spring as they head up to spawn. The majority of the trophy class pike will slide into the lake as summer approaches, however, the bay holds good numbers of pike that would turn heads in many other bodies of water year round. Additionally, walleyes slide in and out of the bay depending upon water temp, bait, hatches, etc. Jumbo perch live in the bay and if you can find them, you won’t believe the size.
There are a number of areas of structure adjacent the south shore of the lake that get passed by. When you zoom in on your GPS or Navionics app on your smartphone, check out the various small reefs and potential fish holding areas adjacent to shore from Morris Point to Long Point around the corner to Arnesen’s Rocky Point. Shoreline structure, small reefs and points hold a variety of fish.
The Northwest Angle is the northernmost point of the contiguous U.S. and the start of the 14,552 islands of the lake. Structure and good areas to cast are everywhere. Try working the shoreline areas around the islands. It is amazing the details missed when boating around the islands. When working close to shore, the underwater points, boulder areas spilling out into deeper water and transition areas from rock to sand are very noticeable and absolute magnets that don’t see many boats.
One event that really opened my eyes was a media event with Rapala and a few other sponsors called the Scatter Rap Challenge. The Scatter Rap had just hit the market and our job was to create media using just the Scatter Rap and nothing else. We targeted shorelines up at the angle and it absolutely amazed me the detail of structure I never knew existed until we cast the shorelines. Using the gold alburnus color (which I believe was the best in the stained waters), good numbers of fish of various species were caught. Walleyes, sauger, pike, bass and we even raised and lost a couple of muskies. In five days, six anglers fished a different 20 mile section from the Canadian side through the Angle, down through Big Traverse Bay into the Rainy River to the Willie Walleye statue in Baudette. 1,019 fish were caught in the five days! Many of these fish came from shorelines.
Regardless of what part of the lake or river being fished, casting shorelines is interesting. Anglers experience a variety of nature. Depending upon where you are, it is also fun to see the houses and cabins along the shore. Imagine living along these fish infested waters!
When talking lures, there are many options. I suggest throwing a variety of offerings until you figure out what is preferred. When fishing with another angler, use different approaches. Perhaps you throw a shallow diving crankbait and your partner casts a spinnerbait or lipless crankbait, something with more flash and vibration. Figure the fish out, what is working the best? How deep are you fishing? Is there rock or vegetation? What species are being targeted?
Another good option in cold water is simply working a jig. Whether you use live bait or plastics, jigging really allows to work up and down the breaks, getting down to where the fish are living. Not only is jigging effective, it literally catches everything that swims.
If you really want to be efficient, don’t work the entire shoreline, but rather focus on areas that have better odds such as points, transition areas, current seams, bays with bait, or perhaps warmer or cooler water. Do a “milk run” where you move from spot to spot utilizing your maps or GPS to identify areas with better odds.
Catching walleyes on Lake of the Woods using traditional methods such as anchoring up and jigging with a frozen emerald shiner can be a blast and extremely productive. Sometimes it is fun to mix things up, experiment a little. Casting shorelines offer incredible opportunities and excitement. It provides an entirely different perspective of the watershed, puts our lures in front of fish prowling the shallows in search of a meal and presents multi species opportunities with a lot of action.