Lake of the Woods: Ultimate Walleye Fishing
by Tim Lesmeister
One of the biggest lakes in Minnesota is Lake of the Woods. It is also a classic walleye lake in every sense. Beginning around the Minnesota fishing opener anglers begin their exodus to the shores of this huge lake in search of Minnesota's favorite fish; the walleye. There are a few patterns that prove effective on this classic walleye lake. There is the downrigger presentation which begins to show up in July when the walleyes begin to suspend. There is the live-bait rig and leech which is a staple around the structural elements. And there is the jig tipped with whatever bait is working that day. I also keep the slip bobber ready for those windy days when huge schools of walleyes move up to the shoreline rubble to feed.
One of my favorite ways to fish for big walleyes on Lake if the Woods is with the downrigger. For the most part all the charter boats up there are trolling with downriggers starting in July. There may be other systems that let you get that lure down into those 15 to 25 foot depths, but downriggers are the most effective way to do this on Lake of the Woods.
Besides Lake Superior, where downriggers are utilized for trolling salmon and lake trout, Lake of the Woods is the only other body of water in Minnesota that I know of where this style of fishing is a common occurrence.
The guides are out every day so they can consistently stay on a pod of walleyes. It's pretty impressive to see those guide boats with a half-dozen lines out on downriggers and two anglers fighting big walleyes at the same time. Unless you've tried it, you haven't lived yet. It is fun. And when the walleyes in all the other lakes in the state are tight-lipped because of dog days, Lake of the Woods still kicks out fish all day long.
It's that period that starts towards the end of July and won't release its grip until the beginning of September. It's dog days and during this period the fishing for walleyes is tough on just about every lake you visit, except Lake of the Woods.
According to my buddy Adam Johnson who is an aquatic biologist, dog days are tough because the walleyes are well fed. He says there is forage everywhere in the lake during this period and it's the perfect eating size. Walleyes don't have to work too hard for a meal. They can just swim into a school of minnows or small perch at night and pick off enough to keep them full until the dinner bell rings again on the next night."
Johnson says that to catch walleyes during the dog days, you have pick a lake that has a huge population of walleyes far enough north that the water temperature keeps the walleye's metabolism running high, but not so warm the fish become lethargic, which happens on some of the shallower pothole lakes. The best choice is, of course, Lake of the Woods.
I don't even bring my boat up to Lake of the Woods anymore during this period. I just go out on a charter boat.
At the same time the charters are targeting those basin fish, there are walleyes on the reefs that rim the big basin in Minnesota. Following the basin around the rim of the lake there are some classic walleye reefs with some big boulders that come out of 30 feet of water and top out at 20 feet. There are plenty of walleyes that hold on those reefs and the two primary patterns to fish them are with a Roach Rig and a leech cruising around the edge, or if there is some wind, you anchor and pitch out a slip-bobber.
We are fortunate that Lake of the Woods has a solid year-round walleye bite. When the ice gets thick enough to drive ATV's and snowmobiles out on it, Lake of the Woods starts producing great fishing and just keeps getting better with no slow down until the ice is gone. Walleyes, saugers and even some huge perch are caught by anglers heading out onto the huge basin on the northern border, but I tend to migrate to the Northwest Angle where you can find those huge perch. Those rock piles around "The Angle" is where you find those big perch, but there's not a ton of them. When you do find them they'll be huge.
Lake of the Woods is simply the ultimate fishing destination, and it's right here in Minnesota. The resorts are plentiful, the charter guides are the best I've ever had the pleasure of fishing with and I've never been disappointed in all the years I've travelled there. I can't say that about any of the other destinations I've visited multiple times. And that says a lot.