Koochiching County and the city of Baudette have shut down public boat access to the Rainy River in moves designed to discourage the crush of visitor traffic that normally accompanies early-spring walleye and sturgeon fishing.
The closures of six ramps west of the Big Fork River, including two within the city limits of Baudette, were announced Monday and Tuesday as measures to help keep coronavirus out of the border region.
As of Tuesday, there were no known cases of COVID-19 in Koochiching or Lake of the Woods counties.
“We simply can’t expose ourselves to the risk at this time,’’ Baudette City Clerk Tina Rennemo said in an interview. “I’m the first one to say I don’t like it, but it’s necessary.’’
Baudette calls itself the “Walleye Capital of the World,’’ but Rennemo said residents don’t want the heavy influx of anglers this year that always coincides with ice-out on the Rainy River (this year around April 1).
There’s good catch-and-release walleye fishing on Minnesota’s side of the Rainy until April 15. The river also draws large numbers of sturgeon anglers from ice-out until May 15.
“As soon as the water opens on that river, it’s full,’’ Rennemo said. “There’s an explosion of people.’’
The boat ramp closings — set to last “until further notice” — were decided independently of the state Department of Natural Resources.
A DNR spokesman said Tuesday that the agency has made no changes to statewide fishing seasons nor has it altered access to any state-operated boat ramps. The DNR operates a boat ramp north of Baudette, but the ice around it is frozen solid and won’t be useful when the Rainy River first opens up.
Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said the boat ramp closings were an unwelcome surprise for fishing guides and other area businesses that thrive on fishing traffic.
“It’s really a sad, sad deal,’’ Henry said. “But people are trying to do things for the right reasons.”
People with private access to the river will be able to fish, he said, but closing the public ramps to vehicle traffic will undoubtedly stymie the majority of would-be anglers.
“Let’s get through this time and talk about fishing this summer,’’ Henry said.