Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

By Shawn Perich

Field Editor

Minnesota has lots of ice-fishing destinations, but Lake of the
Woods is in a class of its own. Lying along what can accurately be
called a frontier border with Canada, Lake of the Woods is wildly
vast and loaded with fish. Anglers can’t ask for a better recipe
for adventure.

In winter, a tremendous population of walleyes and sauger keep
ice anglers occupied. Most of the fish are eaters, not whoppers,
but consistent action and the chance to connect with an occasional
heavyweight walleye makes for very satisfying fishing. With a
generous combined limit of 14 (no more than six can be walleyes),
you can bring home a fine fish dinner.

On Lake of the Woods, you have a number of options for getting
on the ice. Some anglers choose to go it alone with a snowmobile
and portable fish shelter. This mobile approach is advantageous for
finding active fish and more economical than renting a fishing
shanty from a resort. The drawback is that you are truly on your
own in what can be Arctic-like conditions. White-outs, winds, and
vicious cold are all part of the game. On a frozen Lake of the
Woods, there is little room for error.

This is why many winter anglers stay at resorts and rent fishing
shanties. When it comes to ice fishing, you can hardly ask for a
better experience. In the morning, you eat a hearty breakfast at
the resort, than you board a heated snow buggy for a trip to your
shanty. The heat is on in the shanty, too.

Resort operators locate their rental shanties at proven fishing
locations, often miles offshore. The shanties have enough holes so
that everyone in your party has a place to fish in warmth and
comfort. Sleeper shanties, with bunks, allow you to spend 24 hours
or more on the ice, time enough to satisfy even the most ardent
ice-fishing addict.

Catching walleyes and saugers is hardly rocket science, but
you’ll get out of the fishing what you put into it. If playing
cards and having a good time is part of your ice fishing
experience, don’t expect to catch as many fish as the angler who
patiently jigs the hours away. On some days, hungry fish may crunch
any hapless minnow that is lowered near the bottom, but more often
a little finesse will coax extra strikes. Be prepared for light
bites, especially from sauger.

You can get the tackle and bait you need locally, and standard
ice-fishing gear should suffice. A depth-locator is helpful,
because you can monitor the fish activity beneath you. Light,
strike-indicator bobbers will help you detect light bites. Fishing
with a light line is generally more effective, but be careful.
Occasional a large pike or sturgeon will inhale a minnow intended
for sauger or walleye. If it happens to your bait, you’ll have a
fight on your hands.

Although there is a midwinter period when fishing action slows,
it picks up again when the days grow longer. This is a time when
walleyes and northerns start moving toward shore to prepare for the
spring spawn. Good catches are possible, particularly for mobile
anglers.

Lake of the Woods offers some of the best big-pike fishing
remaining in Minnesota. Late-ice action can be superb, but you must
release most of the beauties. A slot limit protects pike from 30 to
40 inches and only one fish over 40 inches is allowed in a bag
limit.

As spring nears, the Rainy River, Lake of the Woods’ major
Minnesota tributary, loses its mantle of ice and draws an enormous
run of spawning walleyes. Many anglers make the Rainy their first
open-water outing of the year and with good reason. The walleye
fishing is as good as it gets. Many trophies are landed and
released. From March 1 through April 14, the bag limit is two
walleyes under 19.5 inches. All larger walleyes must be immediately
returned to the water.

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