Anglers looking for great catch after great catch know that ice fishing is one way to achieve excellent results. Once you can tackle the challenging environment, ice fishing can lead to some incredible catches that will have you hitting your keeper limits every time. Minnesota is home to several lakes that are perfect for a variety of species popular among ice fishermen. If you live in the area, or want to take a fishing trip this winter, check out these Minnesota ice fishing tips to make the most of your adventure.
Know Which Fish To Target
The first things you’ll need to know are what fish you’re going after, how they behave, and what lures will work best for catching them. Walleye, perch, and pike are all native to the area and are great fish to target when ice fishing.
Walleye ice fishing can be tricky, especially given the speculation about and disagreement on their winter migratory patterns. That said, your best bet for success with walleyes will be starting early and drilling holes leading from the shallow end to the deepest part of the lake. Early morning catches will likely be toward the deeper parts, moving toward the shore throughout the day. Sundown can also be a particularly exciting time for walleye fishing with half an hour of more frequent bites before dying down for the night.
Pike fishing in Minnesota is also fun. These fish are aggressive and quick to bite just about any lure designed for them. They also put up a great fight and their size -- combined with their intimidating teeth -- makes for incredible photo opportunities. Minnesota monitors the pike population with a keen eye since these fish can decimate perch populations, throwing ecosystems out of whack. The northeastern corner of Minnesota sees pike in smaller numbers, but their average size is larger, so if you’re looking to catch true monsters, head for northeastern Minnesota. The southern third of Minnesota sees the most activity when it comes to pike fishing, which lowers the pike population. Their growth in this region seems to be faster than the central and northeastern zones. The central zone, which covers the bulk of Minnesota, has an over-abundance of small pike, which has led to some of the perch population issues noted above.
Perch have high catch limits and can make for a fun day on the ice. You can catch up to 20 perch per day, per license and can have 40 in your possession at any one time. They put up a good fight for their size and are readily available across many lakes throughout Minnesota.
Try Dark-House Ice Fishing
One great way to catch lots of fish is to do some dark-house ice fishing. To do this, you’ll turn off all the lights in your bob-house and use the natural light that illuminates the water below to spot fish to angle for or spear. With the proper fishing license, you can spear from your dark house setup as well.
Get Your Fishing License In Order
Every state has different fish and game laws. If you’re visiting Minnesota to do some ice fishing, or are new to fishing as a resident of the state, you’re going to want to make sure you have the appropriate fishing license for the activities you will be participating in. Due to the numerous fishing opportunities in the state, available fishing licenses aren’t as cut and dry as they are in other states.
In addition to your more typical lifetime, senior, and military discounted licenses, there are different licenses and license additions based on the species you’re after and method you’re going to employ. If you’d like to try dark-house fishing or dark-house spear fishing, you’ll need separate licenses. Walleye and trout fishing each require stamps to be added to your angling license. Sturgeon tags are available for purchase as well.
Note that the fishing season doesn’t follow the calendar year. Your license will start on March 1 and expire on February 28 of the next year. When you’re ice fishing, you’re only allowed to have two active lines per license.
Use An Ice House
When you’re ice fishing, the weather can quickly put a damper on a day of angling fun if you’re not prepared. While you’re out on the ice you’ll be exposed to harsh winds, a cold, wet surface beneath you, and frigid temps where highs usually don’t creep above 30. Take away the wind factor and maximise your ability to stay warm by fishing in an ice house.
If you don’t have your own, one can be rented from a variety of local vendors. Keep in mind, there are additional license requirements for ice house fishing, and rates vary between rented and personally owned and registered ice houses. Ice houses that aren’t registered can’t stay on the ice overnight.
Pay Attention To What The Environment Is Telling You
The vegetation under the water provides fish with the oxygen they need to stay active and hunt for food. The more oxygen in the water, the more active and prone to biting they will be. Pay attention to the vegetation in the lake when you get the chance. If your auger or line pulls up some weeds, look at how healthy they are. Brown, smelly weeds mean there’s less oxygen and the fishing may not be so great.
The longer ice covers the lake, the less oxygen there will be. The reduced oxygen in lakes found later in the ice fishing season can draw fish toward the surface, so adjust your lure depth accordingly. A properly selected lure is useless if it’s 30 feet below what you’re trying to catch.
Stay At An Ice Fishing Resort
If you’re not from the area, hiring an ice fishing guide or staying at a local resort can help you maximize your fun on the ice and is a great idea. Area resorts such as Sportsman’s Lodge offer stay-and-fish packages that are incredibly attractive, even for Minnesota residents. They have three locations on one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, Lake of the Woods.
You and your party can book a private ice house that accommodates four to six people. They’re equipped with seating, propane heat, and lights. Experienced guides move the ice houses regularly to help you stay on top of the fish you want most. The best part of it all is your catches will be cleaned for you and delivered back to your resort room for maximum convenience. Cleaning a limit of walleye is not how you want to spend your ice fishing vacation, so leave it to the folks at the resort while you focus on your next great catch.
Follow The Ice
Maximize your ice fishing season by following the ice. Smaller lakes and ponds will freeze to a safe thickness faster. Stick to the small bodies of water early in the winter while larger bodies are still freezing over.
Take Appropriate Safety Precautions
Staying safe on the ice should be your number one priority. Understanding different types of ice and their safe thickness ratings should be the first thing you check. Clear ice is much stronger than white ice. Many factors, such as water chemistry, the size of the water body, the depth of the water, moving currents, and more come into play. Also keep in mind that ice thickness varies all over a body of water. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends that you check the ice thickness every 150 feet.
Brushing up on other ice safety skills is also a great idea. Knowing how to use ice rescue claws, understanding the best practices for helping others, and being confident about what to do if you fall through are all essential ice safety skills.
Keep some emergency blankets and other simple warming items in your tackle box. Emergency blankets fold down to a very small, compact size and can reflect crucial body heat in emergency situations.
Minnesota has some truly incredible ice fishing that every angler should experience at least once. Don’t miss your chance at landing a huge pike, perch, or walleye employing these Minnesota ice fishing tips on your next trip.
Want to fish further south this winter? These are the best places to fly fish in Arkansas, and you can also consider nine key differences between Key West and Key Largo to decide if one of the Keys is the ideal fishing destination for you.