Ice Fishing Minnesota's Big Four

Mille Lacs, Winnibigoshish, and Leech
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A little more than two hours north of Minneapolis/St. Paul is another large lake teeming with fish. Known as the "walleye factory," Mille Lacs Lake becomes a world unto itself in winter. Its icy surface is transformed into a temporary community of up to 7,000 dwellings, not including the many temporary portable shelters that go up and down over a weekend. Mille Lacs definitely caters to fishermen and is home to numerous resort operations, with most offering rental houses for those traveling light.

Like Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs sees hot walleye action early in the season complemented by catches of larger northern pike. Anglers venturing out onto Mille Lacs usually do so in two waves.

The first wave generally occurs from early ice-up to mid-January. This is usually the best time to pursue walleye, and with an estimated population of more than 50 million fish, there is plenty to pursue. As winter progresses and the walleyes bite less frequently, anglers can still find action as perch fishing picks up and peaks in late February and early March.

Those with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) savvy can pick up a copy of the Whiffer Map, which shows more than 100 of the top fishing spots via the corresponding GPS coordinates. With this in hand, it gives anglers a chance to plumb the most productive bays and reefs of Mille Lacs. If you're not high tech, not to worry, simply fish near other fishermen and watch and learn. Strike up a conversation and you'll be surprised how generous most people are with their knowledge and willingness to share tips and techniques.

Lake Winnibigoshish
Located in north central Minnesota, Winnibigoshish, or “Winnie,” becomes the focus of winter anglers looking for perch. The bite is often fast and furious as large schools gather along the sandy shorelines to feed. A popular method of fishing is a jigging spoon, perhaps tipped with a piece of minnow. These baits can be worked right off the bottom or anywhere in between.

The traditional method is to drop the spoon through a hole and let it sink to the desired depth. Once there, lift the rod and bring the spoon up a foot or so and then let it drop again. As it drops, the natural motion will make it flutter and wobble and is often when the perch will strike. When the fishing is hot, the spoon won't even make it down before taken by a hungry fish.

There are fewer resorts here that cater to ice fishermen, but those that do typically plow ice roads on the lake for a mile or two out from shore and set up their shelters in a series of rows. On Winnie, it is not usually necessary to go all over the lake to find fish as the fish often find the anglers.

Winnie is located right in the center of the Chippewa National Forest, giving anglers with arms sore from catching fish an opportunity to explore more than 600,000 acres of lake-country forest.

Leech Lake
Long known for its muskellunge fishery, Leech Lake is becoming more and more popular as a winter destination for crappie, perch, northern pike, and walleye. Also within the Chippewa National Forest, Leech is located south-southwest of Winnibigoshish with the town of Walker serving as its main base.

Leech is more than 115,000 acres in size but sees relatively little resort pressure in winter as many businesses shut their doors. This means anglers can either rely on personal knowledge and techniques or make early reservations with the few resorts whose doors stay open all year.

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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