It was the ninth year of our annual fishing trip to Island View Lodge on Rainy Lake in Northern Minnesota. During the previous years, we had been very successful in learning the routine for catching walleye on the mid lake reefs and structure. This year was promising to be a bit different.

Reports from Ron Opp, owner of Island View, had us wondering what to expect. Due to heavy snows from last winter and torrential rains during the spring and early summer, the water levels were more than four feet above normal.

Rainy Lake is no small piece of structure. Adding four feet of water to a lake of this stature is difficult to comprehend. There was no doubt it would have an impact on everything from landing boats, to docking to fish location.

Even so, there was one thing we knew for certain. The incredible walleye population on Rainy would still be there. Our location and presentation strategies might be different, but once we figured things out, we knew we would catch fish.

This fat 23 inch fish rainy Lake walleye fell to a “slow death” minnow presentation. Jerry Carlson

And catch fish we did, although there was a learning curve involved in getting it done. One advantage we had was the fact there were four boats in our party all filled with excellent anglers. By comparing notes after a day on the water, it didn’t take long to zero in on fish patterns.

There was no doubt that the fish were just starting to transition to the mid lake reefs that are their normal summer haunts. Early in our week, shoreline structure in 18 to 25 feet was our focus. However, as the water warmed from 63 to 70 degrees, the walleye moved deeper.

It wasn’t just the walleye that were transitioning to deeper water. The baitfish were as well. The reefs we checked early in the week were pretty much void of baitfish, but within a few days, clouds of minnows were showing up on our electronics.

Due to the late transition to deep water, minnows were still the key for catching fish. Although we did get action on leeches and crawlers, minnows worked on live bait rigs with Vanish fluorocarbon leaders were by far the most productive.

It didn’t seem to matter much which type of minnow we used, either. Although shiners are usually the best summer minnow on Rainy, this year they bit everything we put down. Rainbows and fathead chubs worked just great.

It is hard to talk about summer walleye fishing on Rainy without mentioning the “slow death” presentation. This concept is still just getting recognized as a viable walleye tool and is rarely utilized by most anglers.

Slow death incorporates the use of a crooked hook designed to make bait spin and is fished in conjunction with bottom bouncers. Our group prefers using the plastic “smile blades” to give a little added attraction to the rig.

Clear Lake angler, Charlie Simkins, shows off a 27 inch walleye caught in 30 feet of water on a live bait minnow rig. Jerry Carlson

Typically we thread a three inch piece of crawler on the hook for bait. However, due to the interest in minnows, we found that a small shiner or fathead threaded on worked better than crawlers. We troll these rigs at .8 to 1.2 miles and hour.

There is no doubt we caught more small walleyes this year than normal. There is an incredible year class of 12 inch fish that will make this fishery great for years to come.

We did get plenty of nice fish below the 17 to 28 inch protected slot for the fry pan and found more big fish as the week progressed including eyes to 27 inches.

Rainy Lake may have high water this summer, but there is no doubt the fishery is still kicking out plenty of walleye. This lake is one of the premier walleye destinations in the Midwest.