Warm weather, no problem: Ice fishing season going strong in border country

Winter seems to be fading fast in the southern two-thirds of the state, but it’s rolling along up north, especially along the Canadian border on Lake of the Woods.

“With the warmer temperatures people think it’s all over now, it’s hard to comprehend that it’s still cold not too far away,” said Jackie LaValla, marketing director for Sportsman’s Lodge near Baudette.

Sometimes when the nightly news comes on, LaValla finds herself talking back to the reporters on television when they talk about the ice fishing season closing.

“The ice might be getting softer in the Twin Cities but up here we’re only losing the snow on top and it’s getting below freezing each night,” she said.

With 22 to 27 inches of solid ice throughout Lake of the Woods, resorters plan on going strong well into March, even into April if another cold snap hits.

LaValla said 85 percent of the time the ice fishing season on Lake of the Woods goes the entire month of March and some years it lasts even longer. Something else that confuses many anglers is that while the ice season is going strong, the Rainy River that flows into Lake of Woods has open-water trophy fishing opportunities from boats.

“When people call in early April from far away places, they have a hard time understanding that you can ice fish on the lake and boat fish on the river all in the same weekend. It’s truly a great angling adventure,” she said. 

News reports about the season ending are true for most of the state, but the border water of Lake of the Woods has a different season structure unknown to many anglers.

The walleye season lasts until April 14 on Lake of the Woods and the pike season is continuous. Sturgeon fishing is catch-and-release from October to April 23, then a short season opens before it goes back to catch-and-release or closes altogether.

“As long as there’s fishing ice on the big lake, we are out there with customers and they don’t need to take their own vehicles out if they don’t want to,” she said.

That’s because Sportsman’s Lodge, like many south shore resorts between Baudette and Warroad, has a fleet of lightweight vehicles it uses to shuttle people out to heated fish houses. Those vehicles keep tabs on their clients throughout the day.

A quick check of several resorts showed prices for a day of fishing in the $120 to $150 range with weekend lodging and meal packages between $300 and $600.

LaValla said business usually drops off up north with ice anglers when the walleye season closes around the rest of the state, and it dips even faster when there’s a warm snap like this one across the state.

With so many vehicles popping through the ice in my normal ice fishing haunts, it’s a five-hour drive I’ll be making with my 9-year-old ice fishing buddy. Watch for details on how we did on the ice in a future blog or print article in Outdoor News.

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