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ON THE RAINY RIVER – Terry Vollmer, Paul Lundgren and Sara Gronewold caught their first walleyes of the season anchored close to shore in a small pocket of water that kept them just out of reach from the river's rapid current and heavy debris.

"This is the second-highest I've seen it in 20 years," said Vollmer, who lives along the river near Birchdale, east of Baudette.

It was about 11 a.m. and the three friends had just finished catching their limit of walleyes and saugers. Vollmer spoke of melting snow and heavy rains that pounded the region before opening day, elevating the river by seven feet in 24 hours. As he spoke, a heavy wooden picnic table — painted green like it belonged in a campground — floated swiftly downriver on the American side. From a distance, it look like a runaway dock.

The three anglers — all wearing smiles — welcomed us to move into their spot. It was a location we had been coveting since we eyed it during a sturgeon catch-and-release expedition in April 2019. What looked promising way back then finally paid dividends.

Our group of three friends, headed by skipper Scott Ward of Inver Grove Heights and including David Whitescarver of Golden Valley, was having trouble Saturday morning getting our bait near the river bottom. Heavy 1-ounce jigs, tipped with a minnow, were far too light to reach bottom, even while stationary near the shoreline. Scott rigged his line with a 4-ounce sliding sinker, trailed by a floating hook and minnow.

It was difficult for him to feel bites because of the extra weight, but he landed our boat's first walleye of the season, a nice 17-incher. Still, nothing else we tried was very effective. By the time we inherited the shallow spot vacated by Vollmer's crew, we had caught only two other small walleyes that we returned to the river.

Even before we launched at 7 a.m., we knew it would be difficult to find purchase with bottom-dwelling walleyes. For starters, the dock was missing from the public landing where we chose to enter east of Baudette. In place of the dock was high water that had flooded the ramp and nearby beach. When we arrived, no other boats were in front of us and only one rig pulled in behind us. As we unsnapped the boat cover, we watched as fallen trees, firewood and other debris floated down the channel.

After I parked our trailer, Scott nosed the boat into a grassy patch of shoreline so I could jump in. We powered a good distance away from the landing and tried to drop anchor in our former sturgeon hole, about 40 yards from shore. But in three attempts, we couldn't get the anchor to stick. Originally, David was going to try for sturgeon while Scott and I jigged for walleye. Plan B took us closer to shore, where we ended up chatting with Sara, Paul and Terry.

"I'm surprised we're catching fish ... hopefully we'll get some more good fishing for a few days,'' Vollmer said.

Sara showed us a nice walleye that she caught, probably close to 19 inches.

The water temp was 47 degrees and some of the female walleyes caught by Vollmer's group were still carrying eggs for the spawn. They were catching the fish at a good pace in 13 feet of water, using pink and white jigs tipped with fatheads. Away from the main current, they could get away with using jigs as light as a half-ounce.

We immediately got bites on heavier jigs, and they were different in color than what worked for the other group. We stuck with them. Scott attracted the vast majority of bites with a 1-ounce jig with a long shank that also carried a stinger hook. Fathead minnows were our bait of choice.

"At this point it seems like the bigger the minnow, the bigger the fish,'' Scott said.

By midafternoon, we were closing in on our limits when David decided to change things up. He would switch to a larger rod and reel and cast a standard sturgeon rig behind the boat into deeper water, with current. "When you come to the Rainy River, if you want to catch a walleye, you should fish for sturgeon,'' Whitescarver quipped.

He had marinated a cluster of nightcrawlers and frozen emerald shiners in a solution called Sturgeon Frenzy. That was his bait. After a while, he felt a tug and reeled in. There was considerable resistance, enough to make him hope for a small sturgeon. But what surfaced was a fat, 24-inch walleye — the biggest catch of the day. After pictures, the fish was released.

What started as an opening day with high water ended with a day of high spirits.