High waters and high spirits converge on opening day on Rainy River

On the Rainy River Teri Vollmer, Paul Lundgren, and Sarah Gronewald fished the season’s first light gray tributaries moored near shore in a small pocket of water that kept them out of reach of the fast river current and heavy debris.

“This is the second highest I’ve seen in 20 years,” said Vollmer, who lives along the river near Berchdale, east of Baudt.

It was about 11 am and the three friends had just finished catching their boundary from the governor and taps. Vollmer spoke of the melting snow and torrential rain that hit the area before opening day, causing the river to rise by seven feet in 24 hours. As he spoke, a heavy wooden picnic table—painted green as if it had been on the campground—quickly floated downstream on the American side. From afar, it looks like an untamed pier.

The three Hunters – all wearing smiles – welcomed us to their spot. It was a site we had been looking forward to since we looked at it during a sturgeon fishing expedition and its release in April 2019. What seemed a promising path at the time paid off in the end.

Our group of three friends, led by Captain Scott Ward of Inver Grove Heights and including David Whitescarver of Golden Valley, had trouble on Saturday morning getting our bait near the river bed. The heavy 1-ounce jigs, with the head of the minnow, were too light to hit the bottom, even while steadying near the shoreline. Scott outfitted his line with a 4-ounce sliding sink, followed by a floating hook and fish.

It was hard for him to feel bitten by the extra weight, but he landed his first walleye on our boat of the season, a nice 17 inches. However, nothing else we tried was very effective. By the time we inherited the shallow spot vacated by Vollmer’s crew, we had just grabbed two little muds and headed back into the river.

Even before our 7 a.m. launch, we knew it would be difficult to find a purchase using the lower housing. For starters, the pier was missing from the public landing as we chose to enter east of Baudette. In place of the pier was the high water that flooded the cliff and the nearby beach. When we arrived, there were no other boats in front of us, and there was only one excavator behind us. As we unwrapped the boat’s lid, we saw fallen trees, firewood, and other debris floating on the canal.

After I parked our trailer, Scott put the boat in a grassy spot of the shoreline so I could jump. We controlled a good distance away from the landing and tried to drop anchor at the former sturgeon hole, about 40 yards offshore. But in three attempts, we were unable to hold the anchor. Originally, David was going to try sturgeon while Scott and I were hopping on for walleye. Plan B brought us closer to shore, where we ended up chatting with Sarah, Paul, and Terry.

“I’m amazed we’re catching fish…Hopefully we’ll get some more good fishing for a few days,” Vollmer said.

Sarah showed us a beautiful thin, fluffy color that she picked up, probably close to 20 inches.

The water temperature was 47 degrees and some of the females caught by the Vollmer group were still carrying eggs for spawning. They were catching fish at a good pace in 13 feet of water, using pink and white jigsawing with gloomy heads. Far from the mainstream, they can get away with using jigs as light as half an ounce.

We immediately got bitten by the heavier dances, and they were a different color than the other group. We are stuck with them. Scott caught the vast majority of bites with a one-ounce jig with a long leg that also carried a stinging hook. The big head minnow was our favorite bait.

“At this point it seems that the bigger the minnow, the bigger the fish,” Scott said.

By mid-afternoon, we were nearing our limits when David decided to turn things around. He would switch to a larger rod and reel and cast the standard sturgeon platform behind the boat into deep water, with the current. “When you come to the Rainy River, if you want to fish a light gray, you should catch sturgeon,” Whitescarver said.

He had soaked a batch of nocturnal reptiles and the brightest frozen emeralds in a solution called Sturgeon Frenzy. That was his taste. After a while, he felt tight and snapped. There was great resistance, enough to make him hope to get the little sturgeon. But what turned up was a light gray fish 24 inches long – the largest ever caught of the day. After the photos, the fish was released.

What started as an opening day with high water ended with a day of high spirits.

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