2013 Fishing forecast

General Predictions for the International Falls Area

Below average temperatures and above average snowfall this winter means that we can expect a return to more normal conditions for the fishing opener in the International Falls Area. The ice usually disappears from Rainy Lake in early May (average ice-out date is May 5), with smaller lakes in the area opening up one to two weeks earlier. Fishing openers in the International Falls area are usually cold affairs and it is not unusual to find walleye that are still spawning. As a result, some anglers are successful by targeting spawning locations (rocky shorelines with clean gravel and cobble exposed to the prevailing winds). Locations with current (think rivers, inlets, and narrows) or physical features that block upstream migration of spawning fish (for example, dams and waterfalls) are also good for walleye this time of year. The Rainy River is well-known for its walleye fishing during the early spring season which closes on April 14th. Most anglers turn their attention to other waters when the regular season opens in mid-May. However, in a year like this with a normal or late spring, plenty of hungry walleye will still be available in the Rainy River on the May opener and you won’t have to fight the crowds.

All of the large border lakes contain populations of large, even trophy sized northern pike. The big pike can be elusive during summer months as they feed on cisco in the deep, cool water of these large lakes. During spring the big fish are spawning in shallow bays with aquatic vegetation and a lucky angler might find one hanging around these locations on the opener before warm summer temperatures send them back to deep water.

Many Area lakes saw good production of black crappie, bluegill and smallmouth bass in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010 which will provide alternative angling opportunities if the walleye don’t cooperate on opening day. 

Rainy Lake

Local anglers know the best and most consistent walleye-angling success on Rainy Lake occurs during the summer when fish can be found on the mid-lake reefs. Rainy is a large, deep lake that warms up slowly. As a result, early season angling success sometimes lags behind the typical Minnesota Lake. However, that also means that when many lakes are experiencing the “dog days” of summer, walleye angling success really heats up on Rainy Lake!

The 2012 walleye catch rate of 6.4 per net was above the long-term average of 5.5 for Rainy Lake. Walleye abundance in DNR test nets remains at historically high levels due to good natural reproduction. Rainy Lake is producing stronger year-classes more frequently than in years past. Prior to 1990, Rainy Lake produced a strong year-class once in every four years. The 1990’s produced six strong year-classes and the first decade of the new century produced four strong year-classes, including the 2001 year-class which is the strongest ever measured.

The abundance of walleye over 17 inches has steadily increased during the past 30 years, meaning anglers are catching more quality sized fish. Fish over 17 inches in length have been protected by a slot limit since 1994 and now make up a significant portion of the angler’s catch. In fact, 29% of the walleye caught (and released) by anglers in 2011 were over 17 inches long (as reported in the angler survey). The 2006 year-class will be reaching the 17-28 inch protected slot during the 2013 growing season, while the strong 2007 year-class will provide opportunities for harvestable fish in the 14-15 inch size range. The 2011 year-class looks promising, but those fish will be too small to interest anglers this season.

Black crappie abundance fluctuates on Rainy Lake as on other Minnesota lakes. Most anglers begin their search for crappie in Black Bay. Good natural reproduction of black crappie in 2003, 2005, and 2006 will provide opportunities to catch black crappie measuring 11 to 15 inches long. Annual sampling in DNR test nets in 2012 yielded the highest catches in five years, with fish up to 14.6 inches long. Memorial Day weekend is usually the best time of year to try for the large crappies that Rainy Lake is famous for, but some anglers have success all summer long. Black Bay is a vast body of water with miles of productive habitat and shorelines, so you may have to cover some ground to find success. While you are searching, you might catch some nice walleye and northern pike too!

Rainy Lake continues to produce large, even trophy sized northern pike. Pike exceeding 40 inches in length are reported every year. Because Rainy Lake is on the Minnesota-Ontario border, the northern pike angling season is open year-round. This provides an early spring fishing opportunity before the regular walleye season opens. Look for big pike in shallow water in the spring of the year, but move to deeper water as the season progresses. Many walleye anglers fishing the reefs for walleye in mid-summer experience the thrill of an encounter with these large northern pike.

Rainy Lake consistently provides excellent smallmouth bass fishing. Fish from 12 to 18 inches long are commonly reported in DNR sampling and angler surveys. Smallmouth bass fishing is usually best in the latter part of June, but good anglers catch trophy sized smallmouth bass all year long. Smallmouth bass fishing season is open continuously on Rainy Lake.

Kabetogama Lake

Kabetogama Lake usually becomes ice free about a week before Rainy Lake and warms quicker since it is smaller and not as deep. The earlier warm-up often results in good early season success for walleye anglers on Kabetogama. Much of the shoreline provides excellent walleye spawning habitat, so anglers don’t have to go far to find spawning concentrations of fish. 

Kabetogama anglers have reported excellent walleye fishing success in recent years. Strong year-classes are occurring less frequently, but the catch of walleye in DNR test nets in 2012 (9.1 per net) was near average for Kabetogama and higher than in similar lakes. Walleye recruitment continues to be a concern on Kabetogama, with only two strong year-classes produced in the previous decade (2001 and 2006). The 2012 year-class looks promising, although it is too early to tell if those fish will be available for anglers in the years to come. The results of the 2012 fall assessment suggests that anglers may have a slightly more difficult time finding “keeper” walleye on Kabetogama in 2013. Fish over 17 inches will be plentiful due to the presence of the strong 2001 and 2006 year-classes and the 2011 year-class will provide plenty of action on small fish. However, the 13 and 15 inch size groups were slightly above average in abundance so diligent anglers should be able to harvest some fish. Anglers are reminded that Kabetogama and the other lakes within the Namakan Reservoir have an experimental regulation which requires the release of all walleye from 17 to 28 inches. One walleye over 28 inches long is allowed in a possession limit of six walleye and sauger combined, with no more than four walleye.

Sauger abundance on Kabetogama declined in the mid-2000’s, but stabilized in recent years due to consistent recruitment. A strong year-class of sauger produced in 2007 averaged just under 14 inches long in the 2012 fall assessment, a size that most anglers will find acceptable. Sauger provide a nice bonus for walleye anglers who can keep two sauger in addition to the four walleye allowed in their daily bag limit.

Kabetogama Lake has a high-quality population of northern pike. The catch rate of 2.3 per net is above the long-term average for Kabetogama and higher than catches on similar lakes.  Fish up to 46 inches long were sampled in DNR test nets, showing the trophy potential of this fishery. Yellow perch abundance stands at an all-time high on Kabetogama. A string of strong year-classes were produced from 2005 through 2009, leading to the current high abundance levels. Fish up to 12 inches long were sampled in our nets, a size which should be very acceptable to anglers. Smallmouth bass abundance has been increasing in the last several years and quality sized fish are present.

Pelican Lake

Pelican Lake near Orr is a relatively large (nearly 11,000 acre) lake with a diverse fishery that provides opportunities to catch northern pike, bass (largemouth and smallmouth), walleye, black crappie, and bluegill. Special regulations for northern pike and bass were first implemented in 1998. The northern pike regulation protects all fish from 24 to 36 inches and the bass regulation protects fish from 14 to 20 inches. A fish population assessment completed in 2012 indicates the fish community has responded well to these regulations, with increased size observed for both northern pike and bass. In addition, abundance of black crappie, bluegill, yellow perch, and walleye has generally increased. Walleye abundance was the highest ever observed on Pelican Lake in 2012 and the average weight of 2.4 pounds will make many Minnesota anglers smile. Black crappie abundance was in the top 25% for similar lakes and fish up to 13 inches were present in test nets. Bluegill abundance was average for lakes of this type and quality sized fish are available. Natural reproduction of bluegill, black crappie and bass was exceptionally strong in 2010, which promises good fishing opportunities on Pelican Lake in the years ahead.