Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Five Minnesota destinations for early-ice walleyes

Minnesota’s abundance of lakes also translates into outsized opportunities to catch walleyes early in the ice season, even beyond northern Minnesota, the state’s main region of walleye-angling action.

Finding good information about where to fish for early-ice walleyes can be as hands-on as driving around to check on local spots, but it can also be as simple as calling your local bait shop, the area DNR Fisheries office, or a local fishing guide.

Here are five locations, in no particular order, around the state where there are at least a few options for early-ice action for walleyes.

Note: Before ever heading onto the ice, understand that there is no such thing as safe ice. Don’t be afraid to rely on the insight of those with the greatest location experience and knowledge.

1) Hutchinson

Scott Mackenthun, the DNR’s Hutchinson area fisheries supervisor, pointed out one option that is almost so obvious that they may be overlooked by many: the state’s walleye-rearing ponds.

“They can be good,” Mackenthun said. “They freeze first and are shallow.”

One issue is a lack of winterkill, at least for those ponds in the Hutchinson area, since 2014.

“The sweet spot (with walleye growth) is two years after a winterkill,” Mackenthun said.

Finding such spots can be accomplished by calling your area DNR fisheries office, he said, also encouraging folks to use the state’s Lakefinder website to research lakes. 

However, the latest data, come wintertime, is still in the process of being worked on at this point.

“If you really want that information, you can reach out to those area offices,” Mackenthun said. “They are happy to share the catch data with you. That should give you a head start.”

As for early ice lake options, Mackenthun suggested Silver Lake by the town of the same name and Round Grove Lake by Stewart as two of the earliest options because of their smaller size and shallower depth.

Next up are lakes Marion, Big Swan, and Belle – bigger and slightly deeper waters.

“They are going to fish well throughout the ice season, but at first ice they will be sharp,” said Mackenthun, himself a serious ice angler.

He said that if fishing the rearing ponds, which are largely featureless, it’s important to get away from other anglers and be both patient and quiet.

2) Alexandria

Shane Gesell, manager at Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle in Alexandria, noted that there are quite a few options for early-ice walleyes in his area.

“Guys target the smaller, shallower lakes especially that first week or two of the season, when the big lakes don’t have much ice,” Gesell said.

One lake he mentioned was 3,793-acre Reno.

“It’s a fairly good-sized lake, but it doesn’t have any deep water, so it freezes up early,” he said. He also mentioned Lake Mary, another larger but shallow lake in the area. “Both have a good population of walleyes.”

Two other options Gesell suggests are Irene and Louise lakes.

Gesell said that in the Alexandria area, early ice season walleyes tend to be aggressive, and he suggests jigging spoons and ripping lipless crankbaits can be effective.

“You’re picking off aggressive fish and triggering reaction bites,” he said. “Your secondary line should be a tip-up or deadstick.”

3) Chisago City

Larry Ferrier, at Frankie’s Live Bait & Marine in Chisago City, has been fishing in the Chisago lakes area for decades.

The first spot that came to his mind, when asked about early-ice walleyes, was the channel between Chisago Lake and South Lindstrom, just down the road on Highway 8 from the bait shop.

“It has always been good walleye fishing there for the last 40 or 50 years,” Ferrier said.

He said anglers tend to set up over 10 to 14 feet of water in that channel and work their baits about 2 feet off the bottom.

“That’s my favorite spot,” he said.

Ferrier also suggested the channel between South and North Lindstrom lakes as another early-season walleye spot.

“It goes right underneath Highway 8,” he said. 

A little later in the season, Little and Big Green lakes are good walleye options, too, Ferrier added.

4) Mankato

Josh Walters, owner of Walts Bait and Tackle in North Mankato, said there are a number of lakes and “puddles” in the area that offer early-season walleye opportunities, rattling off a list of lakes including Loon, Crystal, Madison, Washington, and Jefferson.

Of Madison, he said the lake was fishing well this fall, up until when anglers stopped fishing the open water. Although Madison is not a small lake, Buckmeister Bay tends to freeze up early.

“That’s one of the first bays to freeze up,” Walters said.

A lot of fishing guides will tell you those types of spots should be the first to be checked once lakes freeze.

Walters echoed earlier advice that early-ice walleyes can be aggressive, suggesting jigging spoons and lipless crankbaits.

“When (the walleyes) start to turn off, then switch to live bait,” he said, suggesting that minnows, shiners, and fatheads are solid live-bait options for early-ice walleyes.

5) Perham

Fishing guide Todd Cameron said the Perham area is flush with early-season walleye-fishing options, mentioning Big Pine, Little Pine, Rush, Star, and Walker.

“Otter Tail freezes last,” he said. “But those lakes that get early ice, you can walk out from the public accesses and give yourself a chance for walleyes or panfish.”

Cameron said stealth mode is key for early ice. He drills multiple holes where he plans to fish so he doesn’t have to keep firing up his auger.

He keeps things simple: a deadstick for one line while jigging with the other, with a bit of noise or flash as part of the presentation.

“When the fish are aggressive, they will hit that, but when they’re not, that’s when the deadstick and a minnow does best,” he said. 

Cameron likes to fish the first shoreline break for early walleye action, basically fishing the shallow, usually weedy side adjacent to the first major drop-off.

One last tip for early walleyes: Cameron says the first two hours and last two hours of light in the day are typically the best times to be fishing.

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