Ice Fishing Minnesota's Big Four

The Giant Lake of the Woods
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In winter, the land of 10,000 lakes becomes the land of 10,000 icehouses (and then some) as anglers travel by truck, snowmobile, and sled across frozen water in search of walleye, perch, pike, and sauger (a smaller version of a walleye). Minnesota has so much water that it can be difficult to know where to start. In reality, there are few bad choices.

If you have a favorite body of water, it only takes a change in technique and clothing to hit the ice in search of fish. If you're new to the sport or just want to maximize your chances of success, it makes sense to go where the experienced fishermen go. In Minnesota, there are a few lakes that have achieved legendary status among ice anglers and for good reason—they produce year after year. They are also all big bodies of water—the big four.

Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods is a sprawling, giant of a lake shared by Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba. Over a million acres of water, 65,000 miles of shoreline, and 14,000 islands make up this area, long famous for its fishing, ice and otherwise.

With its northerly location, Lake of the Woods is one of the first places anglers can get out on the ice each season. The quest for the early bite is from walleye and sauger, which become aggressive feeders as ice first forms on the lake.

In the early winter, the fish typically hold in shallower water, along sandy bottoms, getting fat on shiners before making a gradual descent into deeper waters. This time of first ice also finds the perch and northern pike feeding actively.

As winter progresses, fish move steadily toward deeper water where the temperatures are warmest and the anglers follow. It's not unusual to travel several miles onto the ice to follow the moving fish.

Walleye fishermen often go with a one-two punch of jigging complemented by a baited tip-up. Lures such as the silver Swedish Pimple or fish-imitating Jigging Rapala are actively twitched up and down to entice a strike. For northern pike, live bait is tough to beat. Fishing a chub, minnow, shiner, or sucker a few feet below the surface can bring great results and some heart-stopping moments when a toothy pike slams into the bait.

An interesting quirk of geography also surrounds Lake of the Woods. The northwest side of Lake of the Woods borders the northernmost point in the lower forty-eight. The Northwest Angle of Minnesota is physically detached from the rest of the state, separated by water and a rugged road running through some thirty miles of undeveloped Manitoba forest. Here on the Angle are several resorts that cater to fishermen year-round in an unmatched wilderness setting.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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