2014 Fishing forecast

General Predictions for the International Falls Area

Below average temperatures and above average snowfall this winter means that we can likely expect a slightly delayed warm up this spring.  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 can be 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 locations for walleye in spring.  The Rainy River is well known for early spring walleye fishing (which closes on April 14th).  Most anglers turn their attention to other waters when the season reopens in mid-May.  However, in a year like this with a normal or late spring, plenty of hungry walleye will still be present in the Rainy River on the May opener.

All of the large border lakes contain populations of large, even trophy-sized northern pike.  Large pike can be elusive during summer months because they typically leave the shallows for deeper, cooler waters.  During spring, anglers should take advantage of the opportunity to encounter big fish in the shallow, vegetated, spawning bays before warm summer temperatures send them back to deep water.

Many Area lakes saw good production of black crappie, bluegill and smallmouth bass during the past 10 years, which can provide alternative angling opportunities if the walleye don't cooperate. 

Rainy Lake

Rainy is a large, deep lake that warms up slowly.  As a result, most early season walleye anglers concentrate fishing effort in shallow, protected  bays.  Many anglers also make a return to Rainy Lake in summer to participate in the phenomenal walleye fishing found out on the main lake reefs. 

The 2013 walleye catch rate of 8.0 per net was well above the long-term average of 5.5 for Rainy Lake.  Walleye abundance in DNR test nets remains near historically high levels due to good natural reproduction.  Rainy Lake is producing stronger year-classes more frequently than in the past.  Prior to 1990, strong year-classes were produced in 1 of 4 years.  From 2006-2010, strong year-classes were produced in 3 of 5 years; which will provide excellent fishing for walleye of all sizes in 2014.  The abundance of walleye over 17 inches has increased during the past 30 years and anglers are catching more quality-sized fish.  Fish over 17 inches 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 2011 year-class looks especially strong and should keep the quality continuing into the future.

Black crappie abundance fluctuates on Rainy Lake as on other Minnesota lakes.  Most anglers begin their search for crappie in Black Bay.  Annual trap netting targeting black crappie has been carried out in Black Bay since 1992. In 2013, length ranged from 5.8 to 15.0 inches with a mean of 10.7 inches.  Fifty-three percent of the catch was from the 2010 year-class with an additional 13.9 percent each from the 2004, 2005, and 2011 year-classes.  The 2003 year-class appears to be the strongest year-class ever produced in Rainy Lake.  The 2010 year-class appears to be strong based on preliminary data and appears nearly as strong as the 2003 year-class.  The 2010 year-class averaged 9.1 inches long in 2013 and should provide quality fishing opportunities over the next few years.

Rainy Lake continues to produce large, even trophy-sized northern pike.  Pike exceeding 40 inches are reported every year.  Rainy Lake is on the Minnesota-Ontario border; consequently, northern pike angling is open year-round.  Look for big pike in shallow water in spring, but move to deeper water as the season progresses.  Anglers fishing the reefs for walleye in mid-summer often experience the thrill of encountering large northern pike.

Kabetogama Lake

Ice-out on Kabetogama Lake usually happens about a week before Rainy Lake and water temperature increases quicker since Kabetogama is smaller and shallower.  The earlier warm-up often results in good early season fishing.  Anglers have reported excellent walleye fishing success in recent years.  Strong year-classes are occurring less frequently than what has been observed historically, but the catch of walleye in DNR test nets in 2013 (8.0 per net) was near average (9.4) for Kabetogama and higher than what is found in the majority of 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).  Fish over 17 inches will be plentiful due to the presence of the strong 2001 and 2006 year-classes.  Catch rates for walleye over 17 inches in assessment netting were the highest ever recorded for Kabetogama Lake in 2012 and 2013.  Anglers should also see action from a fair number of fish that are 14 to 16 inches.  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 has been steady recently, following a decline in the mid-2000s from highs experienced in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  An abnormal period of three out of four strong year classes from 1995 to 1998, including two of the strongest year-classes ever in 1997 and 1998, were the catalyst for this spike in sauger abundance.   Recruitment has since normalized and appears on a schedule of a strong year-class every third or fourth year.  The strong 2007 year-class is now at a harvestable size averaging 14.3 inches long in the fall of 2013.

Kabetogama Lake has a high-quality population of northern pike.  The catch rate of 3.2 per net was well above the long-term average for Kabetogama and much higher than catches on similar lakes.  Fish up to 46 inches long have been sampled in DNR test nets, showing the trophy potential of this fishery.  Yellow perch abundance remains near the all-time high reached in 2012.  A string of strong year-classes were produced from 2005 through 2010, leading to the current high abundance levels.  Fish up to 13 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.

Ash Lake

Ash Lake is located approximately 13 miles north of Orr, MN.  The lake is moderately-sized (669 acres) and provides anglers with an excellent alternative to the much larger lakes found nearby.  Ash Lake has a diverse fish community that provides opportunities to catch black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleye, and yellow perch.  The results from the most recent survey show that abundance levels and sizes are impressive for all species.  A few notable examples are northern pike and walleye.  A special regulation for northern pike was implemented in 2003.  The regulation protects northern pike from 24 to 36 inches.  The population has improved since the protected slot was implemented; a survey in 2012 showed the average fish was nearly 6 pounds and over 29 inches versus an average of less than 3 pounds and 22.5 inches prior to the protected slot implementation.  There is also the potential to catch a trophy, as northern pike over 38 inches were sampled in the 2012 survey.  Walleye stocking has occurred on Ash Lake since 1945 with mixed results.  However, angling for walleye should be outstanding right now; abundance was much higher in the 2012 survey compared to the previous investigation in 2008 and abundance was the highest recorded since the 1980's.  A good naturally produced year class in 2010, and two successful stocked year classes in 2007 and 2011 have led to the increase.  In 2012, average length was just over 16 inches.