In the serene waters of Rainy Lake, Minnesota, the echoes of a once-thriving commercial fishing industry can still be heard if one listens closely. This is a tale of resilience, adaptation, and ultimately, the end of an era.

The Early Days

The history of commercial fishing on Rainy Lake dates back to the late 19th century, following the initial logging boom of the 1890s. Large-scale fishing operations began on the Rainy River as early as 1892, with the industry reaching its peak in the late 1890s and early 1900s1During this time, roughly seven or eight large-scale fishing companies operated in the area, primarily on Crane Lake1.

The Pioneers

The first permanent settlers, Alonzo Wheeler and Wilhelm Zippel, arrived in 1885 and engaged in commercial fishing enterprises. They were followed by more settlers in the 1890s who chose to make their homes on the shores of the lake and fish for a living2.

The Legacy of Harry Oveson

One of the most notable figures in Rainy Lake’s fishing history was Harry Oveson, born in 1906. He was one of the last commercial fishermen to operate on Rainy Lake. Harry’s daily routine involved rising before dawn to lift his nets, remove the fish, and reset the nets for the next morning’s catch. A good day’s catch would produce around 300 lbs. of whitefish and 50 lbs. of walleye3.

The Ice Harvest

Given the remote locations of most commercial fishing camps, ice was critical to operations. Harry Oveson would leave his winter home in Arizona every other January to harvest ice so a summer’s catch could be refrigerated. His ice house was so well insulated that his ice would last two summers3.

The End of Commercial Fishing

The increased popularity of sport fishing ultimately led to the demise of commercial walleye fishing on Rainy Lake. On July 1, 1985, the State of Minnesota paid Harry and two other remaining Rainy Lake walleye netters to surrender their licenses. This marked the end of commercial fishing on Rainy Lake3.

Visiting the Harry Oveson Fish Camp

Today, visitors can still experience the seclusion and lifestyle of Harry’s legacy at the Harry Oveson Fish Camp. This Day Use site has a picnic table and fire ring, allowing visitors to enjoy a shore lunch while immersing themselves in Voyageurs’ fishing history3.


The history of commercial fishing on Rainy Lake is a poignant reminder of the ever-changing relationship between humans and nature. It’s a story of hard work, solitude, and the eventual transition from commercial to recreational use of the lake’s abundant resources. As we look out over the tranquil waters of Rainy Lake today, we can reflect on the lives of those who once made their living from its depths and the legacy they left behind.

Learn more about the history of Rainy Lake and the fishermen who shaped its story. Book your Rainy Lake Charters tour and see the lake and make a stop at Harry Overson’s Fish Camp and learn more with our guided tour.

#ComeExplore #RainyLakeMN


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