July 27, 2020
By Mike Pehanich
"Getting away from it all" is a relative concept, particularly when the topic is family vacations. But a family adventure to the Minnesota-Ontario border waters in the vicinity of Baudette and International Falls, Minn., offers the opportunity to do just that.
The border town of Baudette, which proudly calls itself the "Gateway to Lake of the Woods," presents a variety of on-the-water adventures. My last trip to the area, with several writers and members of the Hobie pro staff, generated some unique kayak fishing opportunities and a lifetime of memories.
We lodged at River Bend Resort (800-292-3084; riverbendsresorts.com) on the Rainy River. The scenic riverside setting offers doorstep access to the beautiful and bountiful border river, and Lake of the Woods—world-renowned for its walleyes, muskies and smallmouth bass, along with northern pike, lake trout, burbot, perch, sturgeon and sunfish—is a short drive away.
RAINY RIVER STURGEON HUNT
Rainy River’s spring walleye run draws anglers from a wide radius, but it’s the smallmouth bass population that provides the bulk of the summer action. The river also hosts big-time bass tournaments.
Kayak fishing has mushroomed in popularity on these border waters, and on the Rainy River in particular. There we experienced a bucket-list adventure—catching giant lake sturgeon from kayaks. These prehistoric monsters are remarkable fish, as fascinating in appearance and habit as they are formidable at the end of a fishing line. Powerful runs and athletic leaps characterize battles with these river giants. While most anglers still take on sturgeon from conventional fishing craft, the high adventure of a kayak hunt has become increasingly favored.
Using an interesting buoy anchor system, we positioned our kayaks in prime mid-river locations, working gobs of nightcrawlers sweetened with emerald shiners on bottom rigs. Sturgeon fishing gives you plenty of time to commune with nature. The rhythms of the river are broken periodically by the breaches of giant lake sturgeon, often just a stone’s throw away. Better yet is the jarring rush of a hooked sturgeon and the exciting tugboat ride that often follows.
WALLEYE AND SMALLMOUTH BONANZA
Minnesota is synonymous with walleyes, and Baudette’s proximity to the bountiful Lake of the Woods’ marble-eye fishery is its biggest draw.
"The fishing is phenomenal," says Paul Johnson, guide and River Bend Resort owner. "It’s just plain lights out [this time of year] for both numbers and big fish."
Johnson captained one of my most memorable Boundary Water adventures two seasons ago when I joined him and Hobie’s Kevin Nakada on the big lake. We loaded three kayaks onto Johnson’s “mother ship” and ventured to an island area just south of the international boundary. There we cast crankbaits and tube jigs for muscular smallmouth and pedal-trolled along long rock-strewn structure for walleyes, smallmouths and an occasional northern pike. As incredible as the fishing was, a shore lunch of freshly caught walleye fillets was the highlight.
Bookending the Rainy River on the east end is Rainy Lake, another outstanding getaway fishery. Rainy Lake offers idyllic Laurentian Shield settings and game fish aplenty, with the added wonder of beautiful Voyageurs National Park on the southeastern corner of the lake.
With 360 square miles of surface water, explorers and anglers have plenty of room to roam. Smallmouth bass and walleyes are the leading targets, with northern pike, crappies, trophy muskies and even largemouth bass there for the taking.
The International Falls area features fine lodging and resorts, but many find the best way to enjoy Rainy Lake is via houseboat. Billy Dougherty, co-owner of Rainy Lake Houseboats (800-554-9188; rainylakehouseboats.com) located outside of International Falls, led my most recent multi-species outing to the fabled fishery. Billy anchored our spacious houseboat in a quiet cove that we were happy to call “home” for several days. While smallmouth bass got most of our attention, we managed to take a pair of trophy walleyes, including one legitimate double-digit fish, while trolling for muskies and northern pike.
A word to the wise: Be careful to keep your craft on the U.S. side of the border. Canada’s border patrol can be quick to pounce on anglers, even those who have unwittingly crossed the invisible line.
Additional motel lodging in the Baudette area is available at River Bend Walleye Inn (218-634-1550).
For additional information on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, contact Lake of the Woods Tourism (218-634-1174; lakeofthewoodsmn.com).