Rainy Lake, Ontario: Houseboat Fishing At Its Best
Bob McNally 02.05.15
It is a crisp spring morning. The sun is just tipping above a ridge of dense pines on the eastern bank of a sheltered, quiet cove. Three anglers ease along a rocky shoreline in a sturdy boat. The only sounds are the occasional hum of an electric motor, the soft plops of lures landing in the water, and the wild, shrill calls of loons.
Jutting out from the shoreline is a rocky point. At the tip of the point is an enormous boulder three times the size of a compact car. One angler tosses a spoon to the boulder edge, a second fisherman casts a spinner, while the third throws a soft-plastic grub jig.
Almost simultaneously all three anglers have strikes, and a few minutes later three chunky fish are boated. One is a fat smallmouth bass of 2 pounds; the second is a golden-sided 3-pound walleye; while the third is a 3-foot long 5-pound northern pike.
More casts are made, and more fish of those three species are caught. Then the action near the boulder slows, and the fishermen continue along the rocky bank, catching hard-fighting pike, high-leaping smallmouths, and perfect-for-the skillet walleyes.
Finally it is mid-morning, the warm sun bathes the lake’s placid waters a sparkling yellow-gold, and the fishermen decide it is time to return to “camp.” The outboard is fired, they zip out of the cove, around a point, and within minutes are idling up to their moored houseboat “camp.” The aroma of sizzling bacon wafts out of the houseboat’s galley to the hungry anglers even before their boat is secured.
Shortly, the fishermen are breakfasting on eggs, thick Canadian bacon, blueberry muffins, juice, and coffee. Following breakfast, the anglers retire to the houseboat’s comfortable cabins for a nap. Later they rise, climb aboard their boat once again, run a short distance to another rocky bank, and soon are taking one walleye after another, plus bass and pike.
For five days the anglers enjoy their fishing-feasting-resting routine. Rarely do they work the same water twice (unless an unusually large number of fish are found), and not another angler, boat, or much sign of civilization is seen.
If all this sounds too incredible to be true, rest assured that it is, indeed, real. In addition, such remarkably good fishing in a pristine wilderness setting is available to anglers at modest prices and is easy to arrange. Further, it’s not at some remote “fly-in” access spot. The place is sprawling, fish-filled Rainy Lake, located on the Ontario-Minnesota border near International Falls, Minn.
Rainy is a fisherman’s Valhalla. It is, without a doubt, one of the top spots for accessible Canada fishing at a reasonable price and close to the U.S.
Of all the waters in the Canadian North, some of the most wild, beautiful, and yet relatively accessible are those of Rainy Lake, which stretches for over 100 miles along the U.S.-Canadian border. Its waters appear mahogany-hued from staining by tamarack roots. The lake’s primary gamefish are pike, walleyes, smallmouth bass, muskies, and whitefish.
Rainy is classic Northern fishing water. There are banks heavily wooded with spruce, fir, pine and quaking aspen. There are sheltered bays, rocky shores, shallow reefs and sunken bars (all ideal fish habitat), scattered islands big and small, cliffs and bluffs dropping straight to the water’s edge, and sand and gravel shallows spotted with pencil reeds and lily pads. The air is crisp, clear and clean.
Houseboating is the best way to fish Rainy. Anglers tow fishing skiffs behind their houseboat and are completely self-sufficient. They can travel as far as they like to fish as much and as varied water as they choose. With a floating home on the water, anglers can spend all their time fishing and never work the same water twice.
No long boat rides to distant spots are necessary since a houseboat can be anchored at whatever location the anglers choose. Most of the time a houseboat is moved to different spots (if desired) at night, often by a guide while anglers sleep or lounge in the boat’s spacious galley or on open-air decks. Being able to move a “fishing camp” at your own discretion without losing fishing time is much of the beauty of wilderness Rainy Lake houseboat trips.
There are a number of houseboat outfitters on the lake, and most veteran operators are solid, first-rate folks who work hard to make a fishing and family outing a trip of a lifetime. They rent boats of various sizes for Rainy fishing that anglers can take out on the lake alone or with the aid of a skilled guide who knows Rainy fishing inside and out.
An ideal Rainy houseboat trip is for one week, figuring five days of fishing, and allowing a day to get to Rainy and a day to get home again. But trips from just a few days to a month can be arranged.
Houseboating on Rainy makes for perfect family, part-child, or couples fishing vacations because even though the boat is moored many miles from civilization, it offers all the comforts of home, including private bedrooms, flush toilet, hot and cold running water, shower, refrigerator, full kitchen with propane burning stove and oven, and even a sundeck on the boat’s roof.
Outfitters can arrange for all food, beverages, outboard motors and fishing skiffs, cooks, guides, etc. Prices vary greatly according to the size houseboat (some accommodate up to 12 people) and services provided.
Medium-light to medium spinning and bait-casting tackle, and 7- to 9-weight fly gear is perfect for Rainy Lake fishing. A good selection of jigs, diving plugs, spoons, surface lures, and some wire leaders are wise to have, providing good chances for bass, walleyes ,and toothy pike.
A Rainy Lake houseboat fishing adventure is a rare kind of angling available today. It’s perfect family-style fishing, and the angling can be excellent. There are no crowds. The water, air, and unspoiled surroundings are comparatively untouched by man. Yet the lake is easily accessible, and houseboat trips offer all the comforts of home far from city hassles.
Even more remarkable is the fact that houseboat-fishing trips are not expensive, particularly if several anglers or fishing families split the cost. Indeed, the “good ol’ days” of fishing are still available on Rainy Lake, Ontario.