For my whole career, I’ve heard about Rainy Lake in Northwestern Ontario, but I’ve never, ever made a trip there to fish. I’ve fished all over Ontario’s Sunset Country over the years but, for some reason, I’ve never made the time to go to Rainy Lake. Well, I have to admit that after making a recent trip up there my only regret is that I didn’t visit it sooner. This place is a fish factory. It’s an incredibly large lake that covers 360 square miles on the Ontario-Minnesota border, making it the ninth largest lake by area in Ontario. It has over 900 miles of shoreline—and that’s not including over 600 miles of island shoreline. No wonder there are so many fishing opportunities on this lake!
La Belle’s Birch Point Camp is located a short drive north of Fort Frances, Ontario just outside of Devlin. The owner, Dale La Belle, purchased the camp in 1981 and has been there ever since. Right off the bat you feel welcome at La Belle’s. His daughter, Carrie, and son-in-law, Jody, as well as their children, Halle and Jeremy, all pitch in and help out at this family-run business.
The accommodations were clean and comfortable. You can cook your own meals if you like or you can do the American Plan which has all of your meals included. We enjoyed a variety of different types of food while we were there, all of them home-cooked by Carrie. There were certainly no complaints on that end as we left the dining room with full bellies and smiles on our faces.
Our goal on this trip was to fish for walleye and crappies, even though I know that Rainy Lake has a tremendous bass fishery, primarily for smallmouth. Since I had just finished fishing for smallmouth during the Berkley B1 Tournament on Lake St. Frances, I thought it would be nice to switch gears and try some late September walleye and crappie fishing on this trip.
Our niece, Katie Trigg, recently took a manager’s position with the TD Bank in Fort Frances so we decided to invite her along, even though her schedule only allowed her to join us on the first of our two days up there. Prior to this I’d never had her out fishing, and her biggest fish up until now was a palm-sized panfish. Even though she likes camping and all kinds of other outdoor activities, she hasn’t had an opportunity to fish much, so this was a good chance to get her out.
On day one, Dale La Belle took his boat out and showed us some islands and shoals to hit for walleyes. His spots were right on the mark because, by lunchtime, we had caught numerous eating sized walleyes. The regulations up there let you catch and keep four walleyes per person, per day. Three of those have to be within the slot limit and one can be over. If you’re planning a trip to the Rainy Lake area be sure to check the Ontario Fishing Regulations on the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry website before you head out on the water.
Most of our walleyes were caught on a jig and minnow combination that we fished by barely dragging or deadsticking it right on the bottom. We were using 1/4 and 3/8-ounce Berkley Essentials jigheads rigged with the new Berkley MaxScent Flatnose minnow and tipped with a live minnow. Because we had a very short window of fishing time, and Katie hadn’t done much fishing, I thought that using live bait might help her feel the hits and give her time to set the hook. Off camera we managed to catch a number of fish using just the jig and Flatnose minnow, without any live bait, so there’s no question that these walleyes are cooperative no matter how you choose to fish for them.
Jody Shypit and his son Jeremy joined us for shore lunch and it wasn’t long before Dale and the boys had the assembly line going. The next thing you know we were eating fresh walleyes. We had some potatoes and beans to go along with some of the freshest walleyes you’ll ever get. There’s just something about a shore lunch that makes everything taste phenomenal. We went back out fishing in the afternoon and caught several more walleyes up to 4 pounds before deciding to call it a day, as Katie had to head back to Fort Frances.
That evening I asked Dale how the crappie fishing would be and his reply was that we could go and give it a shot, so we went out the next morning and just hammered slab-sized crappies. Most of the fish we caught were suspended five to 10 feet off the bottom over about 30 feet of water and the fishing was absolutely awesome. We used 1/8 ounce Berkley Essentials jigheads rigged with a 2-inch Berkley Power Minnow that I cut about 1/2 an inch off of, and tipped with small minnows. We also caught fish on jigs tipped just with minnows, without the PowerBait. Pink and yellow heads seemed to work very well. We also caught some crappies on the smallest Johnson Thinfisher in a gold colour.
We caught about 20 big, slab-sized crappies in a couple of hours of fishing just a short boat ride from the camp. Many of these fish were in that 1 to 1 3/4 pound range. They were definitely big crappies. Because the crappies were suspended, it was important to keep your jig above the fish in order to get bit. If you dropped your bait below them, you’d catch 99% fewer fish. We used our electronics to see the schools of crappies, and we’d hold our jigs just above them. You could watch the fish come up and all of a sudden you’d feel a little bit of dead weight because they were hitting very lightly. One of the keys with the little jigheads we were using was to just lift the rod when you felt weight. Because crappies have such thin cartilage around their mouths, you need to be gentle with your hooksets so you don’t tear the hook out of their soft mouths.
What really made this trip special was the easy fishing we encountered in our day and a half up there. We literally drove up there, got a couple of TV show segments shot on a couple of different species, then packed up the truck for the ride home.
For me, the highlight of the trip was getting the chance to know Dale and his extended family. The people in this part of Ontario are very down-to-earth, hardcore fishing fanatics and just good, all-around friendly folks. Meeting and spending time with them, along with the great fishing, made this a trip that I wish I had done years ago. Now, having been there and meeting the gang at La Belle’s, I’ll definitely be back—whether they want me or not!