Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Minnesota Pro Tip of the Week: Thinking ahead to early ice

By Brad Hawthorne 

Years of guiding experience: 17

Favorite lakes: MIlle Lacs and mid-sized area lakes.

With my boat put away in storage for the season, I can’t help but look ahead to the impending ice fishing season. Since I primarily fish on Mille Lacs, which is likely going to take some time before its driveable, or even walkable, yes, the focus shifts to early and first-ice opportunities on our smaller bodies of water.

While it’s true that the shallowest waters will freeze first, I avoid those small shallow lakes because the fishing can be tough there, particularly if there is no snow cover. The fish see you and spook easily.

So, I prefer mid-sized lakes with deeper water, at least deep enough for there to be stratification. That can be 20 to 30 feet of water typically, and it’s that deeper water that gets us to where we want to be. That is, if you’ve spend any time fishing panfish on these lakes this fall, where you last fished them, assuming turnover had occurred, is where you are likely to still find those fish. Those deeper waters were off-limits to panfish earlier in the year because of the lack of oxygen. Just about the only thing there during that earlier period were bugs.

Those bugs, their abundance and their previous inaccessibility is why they are still likely to draw panfish to them by the time ice develops. These areas are laden with food because they have been off limits. Also, fish are still seeking out the warmest water they can find, which tends to be deeper this time of year. Go with a buggy presentation and have fun. Just be cautious and patient, because these deeper waters tend to trail behind shallower waters in early-season ice formation.

Hawthorne is a fishing guide on Lake Mille Lacs and surrounding waters. He can be reached at or (651) 271-8600.

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