In North Dakota, Lake Metigoshe an ice-fishing treasure
LAKE METIGOSHE, N.D. — The winter scenery surrounding the quiet lake is Christmas-card perfect. Beneath the frozen cover swim big bluegill and crappie, treasures sought after by avid ice fishermen. Many are dedicated to the quest.
“It’s been in my blood ever since I was a little kid. I just have the love for the sport,” said Justin Potter, of Souris. “I’ve kept with it all my life. Now, as the kids get older, things are starting to evolve with them.”
The Minot Daily News reports that Potter and his wife, Nicky, have made ice fishing a family affair. The husband and wife team have earned a reputation as formidable competitors on the North American Ice Fishing Circuit. They’ve fished through the ice from Indiana to Montana, but they consider Lake Metigoshe a true ice fishing treasure.
“This is my home away from home in the winter,” Justin Potter said. “I absolutely love Metigoshe. I’ve been fishing it for five years now and I think I’ve got it figured out.”
The Potters can be found on Lake Metigoshe virtually every weekend during the hard-water season. To them, ice fishing is family fun with 9-year-old Kaitlyn and 8-year-old Dylan thoroughly enjoying their time on the ice.
“It’s just a great outdoor activity and a great family adventure,” Justin Potter said. “I think ice fishing is a great family thing. Our biggest thing is we’d rather put a fishing rod in our kid’s hand than a Nintendo controller.”
Snow cover on Lake Metigoshe has made ice fishing somewhat more difficult than what it has been in recent years. Hard-packed snow makes it difficult to drive a vehicle onto the ice. Most ice anglers use snowmobiles to move from one place to another on either the north or south portions of the lake that straddles the U.S.-Canada border north of Bottineau.
The lure of catching bluegill and crappies is an enticement for fishermen, many of whom are accustomed to fishing walleye or other fish during the open water season. For an avid fisherman the challenge provided by big panfish is simply too much to ignore.
“You just gotta’ fish! There’s nothing more to it,” said Bob Kraus of Minot as he was preparing his snowmobile and portable ice house for a trip onto Lake Metigoshe. “As long as there’s something fighting back, it’s worth it. That’s the main thing.”
Ice fishing methods and equipment have evolved immensely, especially in the last several years. Portable shelters can be moved about and set up with ease. Fishing is done from comfortable chairs built into the collapsible structures. Small propane heaters provide enough warmth to fish without a cumbersome winter jacket.
“I can remember just sitting on a bucket the whole day and not catching a fish, just staring down the hole,” Justin Potter said.
Now, with the new electronics, the key is being mobile.
“It’s no different than trolling in your boat,” he said. “I call it ice trolling. I’ve punched many holes in a day.’
“Bluegills and crappies can be finicky. You can see them on the Vexilar but you can’t get them to bite. The key is to find out the attitude of the fish. They’ll tell you how they want a jig to move. Figuring out the cadence is the key to chasing bluegills and crappies.”
Lake Metigoshe is the best known of several lakes in the Turtle Mountain region that have excellent populations of panfish. However, fishing pressure during the winter remains less than what might be expected given the quality of fish. A number of pound bluegill were caught during the recent NAIFC tournament at Lake Metigoshe. Other lakes in the region have been known to produce big “gills” as well.
“I’ve been asked by tournament anglers, doesn’t anybody bluegill fish?” Potter said. “My answer is, not really, but there’s getting to be more.”