With the ice gone and a freezer full of crappies, many anglers are looking for something to scratch their itch in anticipation of the walleye opener. More and more of them are discovering the thrill of catching giant sturgeon on the Rainy River near Baudette, MN.
When my good friend Steve Pennaz offered to take me with him to film an episode of Lake Commandos I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The plan was to make the 5.5 hour drive on Wednesday afternoon and fish Thursday and Friday. It’s a pretty sweet deal because Steve has all the gear; all i have to do is show up. It’s funny how I dread a 30 minute commute in the Twin Cities but a 6 hr ride to the Canadian border is no problem! Other than great conversation, one of the highlights of the trip was seeing my first moose in MN. We all agreed this was a good sign there may be good luck on this trip.
Joining us for the trip is Sam Henderson from Delano. Sam works for Everfire Group in Plymouth and will be filming our adventure. We arrived at the Borderview Lodge on Wheeler’s Point near the mouth of the Rainy River around 8 PM. After a quick gear check and a fast 6 hours of sleep, we were ready to hit the water.
We put in at the Vidas public landing just upstream from the mouth of the Rapid River outlet and cruised 3-4 miles downstream towards Baudette. The river is pretty low and holds a few hazards along the way. It’s best to travel on the Canadian side but you can’t fish there. We set out our lines; I used 3-4 nightcrawlers on a 5/O circle hook with a 4 oz flat sinker. Steve started out with dead minnows on the same tackle. The format of his show is to have two anglers with different strategies compete to see who has the best pattern.
The morning started out slow with each of us catching a mixed bag of redhorse, smallies and a pike. It took about 4 hours to hook into our first sturgeon. Steve landed a 24” fish…a baby and not what we were looking for but a good sign that the sturgeon were starting to feed.
We were fishing a deep hole that produced a couple other small sturgeon when we hooked into our first giant. When using a circle hook you don’t do a traditional hook set. You watch the end of the rod and if it starts moving you pick up rod, remove any slack and if you feel fish you start reeling fast to set the hook. I picked up the rod and felt a fish so I started cranking. I knew right away this fish was bigger than anything we had seen all day. Within a few seconds the fish jumped and then dove to the bottom where she would stay for the next 25 minutes.
I was expecting the battle with a dinosaur to be similar to fighting a big muskie. It wasn’t. This fish owned me for well over 20 minutes. I couldn’t move it, gain line, turn it or really do anything other than hold on and apply consistent pressure. We were using 50 lb test line and 10’ 6” rods and needed every inch of it.
Eventually she tired out and we got her in the net. She measured 65” with a 27” girth and weighed between 70-80 lbs. Truly a fish of a lifetime.
After catching a couple other small sturgeon we moved downstream to a spot that Steve felt looked promising. His instincts were quickly confirmed on the Garmin and within a few minutes, history repeated itself. I hooked into my second giant of the day and half way through another 25 minute battle I couldn’t believe it was happening again. This fish ended up being about an inch shorter than my first but was still and amazing fish. And it was shy. It too jumped when hooked but dove the bottom and refused to give me an inch. Fortunately it tired just before I did and we got it in the net.
Steve finished out the day with a fish in the 55” range which brought our total for the day to nine sturgeon.
Our trip went so well we ended up only fishing one day but what a day it was. It’s truly a community fishery and we were supported by the crew at Borderview Lodge and by local guide Darrell Hoag. Darrell knows where the fish are so if you want to have this experience give him a call!
This adventure will air on Lake Commandos on Sportsman’s Channel in a few short weeks so be sure to tune in!
For more information:
www.borderviewlodge.com / 800-PRO-FISH
Fishing Guide Darrell Hoag / Cell: 419-707-7318