Fishing in the Crane Lake Region – Walleye by the Season
Nestled in the wilderness of northeastern Minnesota lies the region of Crane Lake. The area has a lot to offer its visitors, including hiking, ATV riding, canoeing, and boating to name a few. Among the most popular pursuits in this neck of the woods is the fishing – and that’s for good reason. The region is a premier fishing destination for walleye and smallmouth bass – offering potential for fish of a trophy caliber, as well as large quantities of smaller class fish. In addition to the walleye and smallmouth prospects, the area offers anglers the opportunity at many other species like sauger, black crappie, lake trout, northern pike, sturgeon, largemouth bass, yellow perch and bluegill.
Crane Lake itself is roughly 3,000 acres in size, but as the gateway to Voyageurs National Park it has connections to several larger bodies of water in the region – including Sand Point Lake, Namakan Lake, Lac La Croix, Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Loon Lake. These lakes alone account for more than 300,000 acres of fishable water. Additionally, the area also serves as and the western access point of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness which encompasses thousands of acres of fishable water.
Several of the lakes in the region are located along the Minnesota-Ontario border, so it’s important to remain cognizant of your location whenever you are on the water. Depending on your specific location, border crossings may or may not be obvious. Relying on maps, GPS units, and other navigational devices can ensure you follow the border rules. If you plan to enter Canada, follow the necessary protocols, and have the proper paperwork and identification on hand. A passport or passport card are some of the best identification tools for crossing the border with ease. The closest Canadian customs office for the Crane Lake area is located on Government Island on Sand Point Lake.
Regardless of where you plan to fish, it’s important to have an up-to-date fishing license. Different license options are available depending on how long you intend to fish. If Canadian fishing is on your list, then you’ll need to obtain a Canadian fishing license as well.
The Walleye Fishing
This region of Minnesota is well known for its walleye fishing opportunities. They are without a doubt the top angling target in the area and the primary reason so many fishermen visit on an annual basis. In addition to walleyes, a closely related relative, the sauger, is found in abundance throughout the region. Crane Lake, and many of the surrounding waters, provide opportunities for countless eater-class walleyes and saugers, as well as the chance at a true giant.
Many of the lakes in the Namakan Reservoir have experimental walleye and sauger regulations. Anglers planning to keep fish are allowed a total possession limit of six fish, however, only four of the six can be walleyes. Currently, all walleyes between 18 to 26 inches must be immediately released and only one walleye over 26 inches is allowed in possession.
Grant Sorensen, Owner of Superior Angling Co., is no stranger to walleye fishing in the Northwoods. He has spent his fair share of time throughout the region targeting walleyes – as a guide, television host, and recreational fisherman. According to Grant, the area lakes are rich with fish. “The overall system is very healthy. There’s an abundance of walleyes in the 16-to-20-inch class, but there’s also a good population of fish in the 24-to-28 inch range. There are so many good year classes in the area right now.”
There’s no absence of water throughout the Namakan Reservoir and as a result, that means lots of structure. This is especially evident as you travel into the northern lakes. Like fish in other lakes and reservoirs, the walleyes in the region tend to use different areas during different seasons. Knowing which areas to target during which seasons is part of the game.
“Springtime really is the best time for targeting walleyes throughout this area, both in terms of size and numbers,” says Sorensen. During the springtime, walleyes tend to be shallow. Depending on water temperatures and other environmental factors, fish can be anywhere from two to 18 feet of water. According to Grant, “It’s not uncommon to find walleyes in as shallow as a couple feet of water, especially during high water periods. Around the opener timeframe, we are typically focusing our efforts on inlets, river mouths, and neckdown areas.” If spring comes early, fish will often head for deeper water earlier. Late springs will often keep them shallower longer. Most anglers focus their efforts on inlet areas like the Vermillion River, Echo River, Rollick Creek, and Camp 40 Creek or neckdown areas like the Narrows.
The spring timeframe is most well-known for it’s jig bite. “For shallow fish, it’s hard to beat pitching a jig,” says Grant. Minnows always work well during this time of year, but if you plan to fish both Minnesota and Ontario in the same day then a jig and plastic is the way to go. “Shallow fish tend to be spooky, so it’s important to cast at fish rather than jig over the top of them. That being said, you can target deeper walleyes via vertical jigging.”
According to Sorensen, 1/8-ounce jigs are ideal for shallow water walleyes, but for areas with current 1/4-ounce to 3/8-ounce jigs are more appropriate. In terms of gear, things vary depending on the technique, but rods of the shorter variety – 6’6” – are ideal for vertical jigging, while longer rods – 6’9” to 7’1” – excel for pitching jigs. Grant relies on a Medium Power rod during this timeframe, especially in current areas where heavier jigs are necessary.
“Another great option for shallow water walleyes in the spring is casting crankbaits and stickbaits. The great part about these lures is that they’re multi-species in nature so you can catch a lot of pike and smallmouth as well.”
The summer months in the Crane Lake region are characterized by two main walleye movements. The first major transition most often occurs during the month of June. As spring fades to summer, walleyes will often make a move from shallow inlet areas to slightly deeper water. “After the spawn wraps up, walleyes are on the move to deeper water and typically disperse throughout the main lake,” says Sorenson. “There are endless miles of shoreline points, reefs, and humps, so structure is in surplus. Thankfully, most of the key areas are pretty obvious and all of the major electronics companies have things mapped out well.”
“The jig bite is often still effective during this period, but there’s also a good rigging bite – especially for the deeper fish. Live bait choices typically transition more from a strictly minnow bite to a combination of minnows and leeches,” says Grant. He relies on rods in the 7’ to 7’6” range for rigging.
During the months of July and August, walleyes transition again to even deeper areas. At this time, humps, points, and reefs are all equal opportunity employers when it comes to housing fish. Walleyes will often position themselves deeper during the day and transition shallower during lowlight hours. “As we get into the later part of summer the trolling bite really starts to kick off. We look to target walleyes that are roaming over deep water. This is a great option to target bigger fish. It’s definitely less of a numbers game, but if you’re willing to stick it out you can be rewarded with some quality fish.” This deep water trolling regimen includes both leadcore and longlining of deeper diving shad style baits.
“The nice part about this area is that you can really fish them how you want especially during this summer.,” says Sorensen. “Of course, there are certain techniques that will be more effective than others, but pretty much everything is fair game throughout the summer months. If you want to rig, then rig. If you want to jig, then jig.”
Key depths throughout the summer months can really vary day by day, but areas in 20-to-35 feet of water are ideal.
The fall period sees a shift of walleyes from deeper structure back to more mid-lake depths. “The walleyes will transition out of their late summer slump and they really start to put on the feedbag again,” says Grant. As the water cools, baitfish start to push shallower, which sends the walleyes right after them.
During this timeframe, walleyes tend to be found most commonly in the 15-to-25 feet of water range. In certain areas, the fish will be found as deep as 35 feet of water. Areas with current or deeper shoreline breaks are great places to start the search, but mid-lake structure also plays a role especially earlier in the year. With so little fishing pressure in the fall, anglers can fish virtually anywhere they want.
“A lot of our springtime tactics come back again the fall,” says Sorensen. “It’s back to a lot of jig and minnow or jig and plastic style of fishing. Since we are focusing on deeper water, 1/4-ounce and 3/8-ounce jigs are most commonly used.”
In addition to catching large numbers of fish, fall is a great time to catch a potential trophy. For many anglers, this is their favorite time of year to track down trophies of any species.
This part of Minnesota is full of opportunity. Endless miles of water, undeveloped shoreline and natural beauty ready for enjoyment. If you’re a fisherman, and particularly a walleye fisherman, this area is hard to beat. This region has countless walleyes and saugers, so you’ll be sure to enjoy a meal of fish, in addition to maybe catching that one worthy of a picture. The Crane Lake area is home to numerous resorts, guides, and outfitters that will welcome you with open arms. Some parting words from frequent visitor, Grant Sorensen, “The area is just beautiful. It gives you a glimpse of everything that nature has to offer.”
To reach Grant:
Superior Angling Co – www.superiorangling.com