People often ask me what my favorite fishing lake is. And every time I have to think about the dozens of favorites I have and quickly process why I covet my choices so I can give a straight answer. Typically, I first begin to think of the various areas of the state which I fish on a weekly basis. These areas consist of the Gull Lake area, the Leech Lake/ Park Rapids area, the Ottertail Lake area and of course the St. Cloud/ Alexandria Lakes area. Yes--I do get around, about 20,000 miles worth pulling a boat each summer. Anyone wanna buy a GMC suburban? Anyway, all of these areas employ my skills in order to help others create "fishing memories" or "trips of a life time". But there is another lake/area that is dear to my heart-- Rainy Lake. And I can't get there enough.
The first thought that comes to mind when I think of Rainy Lake is the awsome fishing. My next series of thoughts include great north woods scenery--the towering pines (and the smell of pine), gorgeous rock formations, endless protected bays and coves, large expanses of water just waiting to be explored, and of course the numerous sightings of black bear, deer, grouse, bald eagles, and even moose. I then immediatley reflect on the many dozens of trips to Canada and I come to the conclusion that there really isn't much of a difference between Canadian fishing and Rainy Lake fishing --as far as an easy "drive in fishing" trip is concerned. Not to mention, it's much more affordable, no border/passport hassles, etc etc. Now granted, Rainy does reach into Canada, but I am mainly referring to the Minnesota side of the Lake.
One of the most angler friendly features of Rainy Lake (verses other large bodies of water ((like the Minnesota side Lake Of The Woods)) is the endless amount of quality fishing spots found in wind protected areas of the lake. What I mean is, the odds of wasting half of your fishing trip getting "blown off" the lake due to wind is very very small. Another positive of Rainy is that the lake seems to have far less boat traffic/ crowds etc because of the large amount of "fishing spots" distributing the boats all over the lake. There have been many trips to Rainy in which I have fished all day and hardly even spotted another boat navigating anywhere. I know that's hard to believe, but it's true--no motor noises or wakes rocking the boat all day! And talk about the fishing--it's as good as it gets.
With basically the same fishing regulations/slots as Lake Of The Woods, the fishing on Rainy Lake in my opinion in fish caught per hour (with the effort factor in mind)--is just as good--if not better! Traditional fishing techniques (jigging/rigging) will fill the live well every time. And plan on catching a ton of 20"-26" walleyes in between the "eaters". Planning a shore lunch? Don't worry--you'll catch it. In other words--leave the hot dogs at home. What about lodging? That's covered.
There is no "resort row". To my knowledge ( I may be wrong, and I'm not counting the house boats) there are only three resorts/lodges on the American side of the entire lake--that's one of the reasons the fishing pressure is so low per acre. The three resorts I am most familiar with are: Island View Lodge, The Thunderbird, and Sha-Sha (pronounced "shay shay"). My personal favorite is Island View Lodge for a variety of reasons. The location is awesome and like the name says--it has one of the best views of a Minnesota lake to be found. Ya gotta be there!
In short, if you are looking for the Canadian "up North feel" fishing trip with the Canadian style fishing available to any angler, stay in Minnesota, and find your own secret fishing spot-- Rainy Lake. Rainy Lake is a good option for you! P.S. don't forget the endless supply of 40" pike along the way. Good Luck, Capt. Josh www.minnesotaguideservice.com
It never fails, I get a new boat, I sell the Vexilars with the old boat, and I want to install some new Vexilar flashers on either end of the new boat to use as one of my primary "fish finders". Then comes the fun part--trying to find the model I need/want after the ice melts. Why is that such a problem? I thank the ice fishing industry for that.
Believe it or not, unless I order the unit(s) from somewhere, I cannot simply go down to the sporting goods store and pick one up, or even find some of the accessories--because as I'm told by the sales people "they will be back in stock for ice fishing in the Fall". And then they look at me as if Im crazy for using a Vexilar on a boat!
What?! Are you kidding me? This is coming from "big name" stores by the way. (makes me want to get a job at a sporting goods store to really help people get what they need) Then the search begins, I start calling all of the "normal big name places" -I will not name. After 12 phone calls, I will order what I need from Vexilar directly or some small private suppliers I know. In other situations, I will find the actual flasher, but no high speed transducers--only "pucks" for ice fishing. I have even been asked why I need a high speed "ducer" for ice fishing--and these are the supposed "pros" working in the electronics dept. giving advice to novice anglers? Hmmm. Reminds me of the time I asked for a "flippin stick" and the guy handed me a 5'4" jerk bait rod. Hmmm. (again, I should get a job in the fishing dept)
Before ice fishing with flashers, they were used on boats. To this day I utilize my Vexilar flasher in the boat to find any fish, at any depth, and at any speed to great accuracy. Yes, I have a graph, but my eyes are glued to the flasher for the simple reason of the instant readings I get when I am searching or mapping out an area to fish--with no delay that comes with any graph type of unit. The graph is also on, in case I am looking some where and miss a mark on the flasher--that's where the delay is handy--its still on the screen. And ofcourse there are countless situations where the graph is needed for a better interpretation of what is below the boat. So why can I purchase a graph during the winter months but I cannot purchase a Vexilar flasher off the shelf during the open water season that's not an "ice fishing" package? Because, "they will be back in stock for ice fishing in the Fall"
Oops, gotta go, Speedy Delivery just arrived with my 2 power cables for my spare FL-12's I had to order because nobody in St. Cloud ...or Rodgers carries them. HUH? Good Luck! Capt. Josh www.minnesotaguideservice.com
Each and every Spring there are countless articles about fishing shallow on the opener for the elusive walleye. While that can be a good starting point on a variety of bodies of water, fishing "deep" water can be a life saver. What do I consider shallow or deep this time of year? Shallow 3-10ft and deep 10-30 ft.
There have been quit a few openers where we have scored nice fish in the 3-10 ft range to the point where I guess you could call it "the norm". On the other side of the coin, there have also been quit a few openers where we have tried the shallows and watch everyone catch nothing and head to the deep water nearby and end up catching limits of walleyes in a matter of a couple of hours in water depths of 20-30 ft deep. Why are the fish there? Cover, food and also as a result of tons of "new" boat traffic in the shallows.
Im not talking about fishing the mid-lake type of spots, but I'm talking the the deep water adjacent to the shallow spawning/feeding grounds that you will find most anglers utilizing--around the perimeter of the lake. Yes thats right, my boat is "out there" by itself making other anglers wonder what's going on. And since most anglers like to fish by others and in crowds--it usually stays that way. Thats what I and the fish like--peace and quiet. Nothing puts tight lips on shallow fish faster than boats and noise. So, do not be afraid to venture out into 20-30 ft of water. If nothing is being caught in the shallows--then why stay there? And the best part is, there no special tackle is needed to catch the deeper fish.
Using the same tackle--live bait Lindys or 1/8, 3/16 oz jigs tipped with a shiner minnow. What colors?-- in most clear bodies of water--blue/white combos, glow/white combos, and dont forget about flourecent green. Shiner minnows are the best bet, but also bring crawlers and small to medium leeches (forget about the jumbos). Work the bait slow on the bottom and be ready for "lighter bites" . What's also nice is that an actual school or two can be located and fished for a while--unlike in the shallows where they can move around much faster and school on a smaller basis. So give it a try--fish deep on the opener, you may be surprised! Good Luck, Capt. Josh. www.minnesotaguideservice.com
OK, here it goes. You and your buddies plan a ice fishing trip somewhere and call ahead and reserve a fish house for the day. With anticipation, your group arrives on time to meet the guide at the bait shop and it is learned the house isn't ready for 15 more minutes--one of the guys grumbles being a little upset--"should've been ready". After a short wait and a hot cup of coffee, you are instructed by the guide or "resort helper" to "follow me" out to the house somewhere on the lake. After a short 10 minute ride---you see it in all its glory (it even has those heavenly lights around it)--your home away from home. You and your buddies get out of the truck and say "boy that was easy--lets fish!". That's far from the truth for the guys(s) running those fish houses.
Before you arrrived at you on-ice home, the preperation started in October while you were watching the Vikings lose. The rental houses are repaired, heaters checked, the heater fuel supplier is contacted, seals tightened, frames beefed up and any other welding is accomplished. Oh yeh, rattle reels spooled up, all the bait buckets checked for leaks, ice scoops counted, rods/reels spooled with new line, client tackle boxes filled with supplies, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors checked--(any houses you ever rent have this stuff?--probably not). Even take the Hoover to the carpeted floor! Now its time to go down to the bait shop and get 10 ice house rental tags--ouch! The houses are not even out on the lake yet--but close.
Now comes the fun part--pre- fishing. Before any houses can be put out or clients even think about reserving a house, 20 good fishing spots need to be found for the 10 houses. These spots are not the same each year (although as most of you have found, most rental units are on the same spot each year). After a few hundred hours of "checking around" a "milk run" is set up--atleast for now. With 12" of good ice on the lake the houses are placed in various locations and depths. All of the houses are different shapes and colors so that "fish house leeches" cant benefit from all the hard work by identifying a rental service or resort. Infact, there will be no 4 lane highway plowed to the house-- to again keep "the leeches" from drilling holes in a perfectly good road, blocking the road with their new fish house, or driving to your front door and running a generator all day 10 ft from the rental house--fish love that--NOT. You see, there are reasons for everything if the clients are to actualy catch fish and not just sit out there and rot. --sound familiar? The frustration of providing good service to rental clients begins with the other ice anglers "mooching" your plan. Its no different than the guy who demands to drop anchor 20ft from your boat ruining the fishing for everyone.
So far, many many hours have been spent just getting that rental house to where it is. Some of the other beind the scenes are weather related. Just being able to access the house can be a trick. Keeping them full of fuel and warm can be a trick. What happenes when it snows 18" on 12" of ice and the wind is blowing 40 mph?--no good, that's what. Roads are almost impassible to the "good spots". Many times the houses will have to be brought in closer or "rescued" before they are drifted/iced/frozen in due to the water seeping up under the house. You may have experienced that issue with your own house on a litle lake, but imagine the nightmare of 10 houses 3-4 miles from shore. Yep, that's what happens--24 hours a day. So here comes the other fun part--house search and rescue during a whiteout / blizzard at midnight in the middle of nowhere. Oh yeh, than you get stuck--really stuck. Due to zero visibility and no hope of walking to shore without dying. A call is made via cell phone to a friend for help. With the help of GPS, you are rescued but the truck must stay over night frozen up to the axles in ice/water and slush. After hours pf peril and pain, all of the houses are sitting high and dry on shore--along with a 2 yr old frozen solid truck that will not move. Doesn't matter, the clients are on the way and cant wait to get into the fish house to catch some fish. Why wouldn't they, it was a beautiful day in the Twin Cities.
After a couple of "Hail Marys" and a little hot coffee, your rental house is back in action--only 15 minutes late! Little did you know what had happened getting the house to where it was placed. This situation was real as of the New Years blizzard in which my brother runs a very successful and fish catching rental/guide service in the Battle Lake area. Next time you rent a fish house think about all of the effort that goes into making your day fun and comfortable--and most off all-- try to apprectiate all of the behind the scenes effort that goes into helping you catch a walleye or perch with ease. Good luck! Capt. Josh.www.minnesotaguideservice.com
Reality set in yesterday. I finally cleaned out the boats and started to prep for ice fishing. With phone calls and e-mails regarding fish house rentals starting to pour in due to the recent cold snap and the creation of crisp clean ice--the winter ice fishing season has officially started. As I removed dozens of trusty fishing rods from the boat, I began to reflect on the fish each had fishing rod had caught and the hundreds of great people I had been fortunate enough to have in the boat throughout the summer that used the same fishing rods to create their own memories for themselves and their families.
How about the little kid who wanted to catch his first northern pike--his dad too. They show up dressed to the hilt in northern pike t-shirts and cant wait to give it a whirl. They start out with stories of the week long family trips with not a bite or the only one that got away. And now in 4 hours thats all going to change. 30 Northern Pike later--and smiles from a kid and his dad I will never forget. -- And how about the teen pagent queen from Tennessee who is scared to touch a fish but promised that she would hold whatever she catches. Twenty minutes into the trip and with walleyes already in the boat --the big one grabs her bait and doesnt stop!! I knew what it was--this area had a knack fro spitting out 20lb plus carp and she caught one. I have never witnessed a 17 yr old girl "hug" a giant fish with so much pride on all my life. Ya thought I was watching a 5 yr old with her first fish ever. WOW, I gotta find that picture and put in on the website.
How about the 2 German exchange students from a tiny town in the "Black Forest" area of Germany. And the names of these two guys who couldn't speak hardly four words of English--Hans and Sven. They had an awsome time pulling in Bass from a 30ft weedline. I just couldn't stop thinking of the old Saturday Night Live skits with Hans and Frans the weight lifter guys--funny as heck. What about the 2 NASA employess--one of whom is the right hand person for the launch guy for the space shuttle--on a trip to Minnesota to find themselves fishing in the coldest rainiest day of the summer--didnt miss a beat and took walleye home to Florida. Two weeks later I get a pass in the mail to sit in the observation room and watch a launch. And then I get a call from some liberal Amish guys one day. Yep, me and 5 "Abe Lincolns" in the boat--black hats and suspenders in August. Wonderful people with a great way of life--that's for sure. What about a self proclaimed chef who works for Universal Studios in charge of moving "sets" for a variety of sitcoms--trust me, his stories about Charlie Sheen are too good for the tabloids! He had some good earth quake stories too. I learned how to marinate steak using whiskey that day, yum.
Rescue stories? I have a few. The best one though of the summer is we are out on a large lake one day --one of the windiest days of the summer--40 knots sustained with gusts that were higher. Off in the distance I see what looks like a over turned sail boat in the middle of the lake, We boat over to investigate and here it is a small floatilla of teenage girls that had been blown away from the public swimming beach miles out to sea ( on their floating mattresses) with no hope of paddleing back into the wind. Nice job life guard watching this all unfold! Anyway, after towing them back to shore for 45 minutes they were greeted by the entire fire/resue squad standing on the dock like a scene from "Jaws" --they wre so embarrassed you could feel it in the boat. By the way they had declined getting aboard the boat when asked--smart?, Not sure yet. How many boats a summer do I tow to shore you ask? On the average about 6. How many people cant load a pontoon onto a trailer in a cross wind -90%. Have you ever been in a Turkish prison? How many times have I been towed to shore in 25 yrs? Twice.
The memories are endless. The rewards are endless. The experiences gained and learned are endless. The challenges are endless. Now it's time to make ice fishing memories once again. Good luck, Capt. Josh www.minnesotaguideservice.com