Walking in the back yard, I noticed that I was able to walk on top of the frozen snow. Wondering if it might be the same on the lakes, I readied my panfish gear and headed out to see if that was the case.
Cautiously, I made my way out to the fishing hole with a snowmobile. It was perfect! I was riding “high and dry”. One hole was drilled, and fish were caught. It turned out to be a good morning.
If there was any downside at all, to this successful trip, it was the fact that good wax worms are about as scarce as hen’s teeth. Many of the bait shops were sitting on thousands of worms, during the recent two months, due to poor fishing weather, and now, when we’re able to get out and use them, they’re about shot. Luckily, the fish were hungry enough to eat flat, non-moving, discolored waxies, and I’m glad they did, as they had no interest in plastics.
Coming off the lake, I met a fishing friend, who was set to walk out. I told him of my happy experience with the Bearcat and the fact that there wasn’t really enough snow out there to run one. It looked perfect for an ATV, as hole drilling didn’t discover any slush.
Asking if he had any ice cleats (yes, it was that slick out there), he said no but lived close enough to go back home and get them. He also planned on coming back with his four-wheeler.
The next morning, bright and early, I arrived at the access and headed back out, noticing slushy, deep tire tracks, thinking to myself “that doesn’t look good.”
Without incident, I made it to the fishing hole and began catching. It was beautiful out, with no wind and a fairly-warm air temp. I sent my son some fish photos, which prompted him to join me, using his side-by-side.
An hour later, I noticed some commotion near the access and went to investigate. It was Kris, and youngest granddaughter Claire. They were packed and ready to go fishing but had trouble driving out. The heavy machine found any weak spots and there was plenty of slush below them.
Plan B. Make it back to the access, with the side-by-side, load it up, and have me pull them and their fishing sled out on the lake. The Bearcat worked fine, with all three of us riding out at the same time. As I stated, “high and dry”, there wasn’t even any snow in my track, clean as a whistle.
Done fishing, I met my buddy from yesterday, who was going to try it again. He said he got stuck and had to call someone for help. I felt a little bad about that. Lake surfaces can be so deceiving. He was driving a snowmobile this time.
I’ve had people contacting me, regarding lake travel and I think the best way to describe it is “each lake is different. You’ll have to slowly check it out.” I’d hate to say “yeah, go ahead” and have them getting stuck and wasting the day.
I’ve even had a couple phone calls regarding fish houses that needed to be removed as of last Monday. Many anglers had trouble in getting them off the lake. This was such a terrible winter, one would think the DNR could give them a one-week extension, or so.
I watched one guy, and his buddy, take apart a dark house, piece-by-piece, and make multiple trips to shore, where it was loaded in the back of a truck. It was frozen in pretty good, so there was no salvaging the old shelter. It was a total demolition job. I kind of figured that when he rode out with his snowmobile and had a chain saw with him. That’s something you don’t see every day.
I picked up a little more ice fishing gear last week. Normally, when we’re so far into the season, that I don’t purchase a whole lot but when Dan Burdick, of the Hibbing L&M store, showed me the “Rod Pod”, I had to have.
The Rod Pod is, basically, (and in my words) a flexible, but strong, plastic sleeve that can accommodate ice rods up to 30” in length. Grab the reel-seat, and gently slide the rod into place and it stays there. The rod snaps into position, via three enlarged openings (your choice depending on length of rod), and the durable plastic holds it there until ready to use.
I usually manage to break an average of two rod tips per year, mainly because I fish a lot (the law of averages) and I’m just flat-out hard on equipment. No broken rods yet this year and hopefully it will stay that way.
Remember, regarding lake conditions, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
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One of my recent trips had me trying my hand for jumbo perch. The weather, although not all that cold, wasn’t the best on this day, due to strong winds. It was brutal, trying to fish outside, without a shelter.
Longtime fishing partner, Brad Brown, and I doubled up on my snowmobile and made our way to a proven big perch spot. The resort had closed the ice road to vehicles, because of deep snow, slush, and flooding, but it was open to foot traffic, snowmobiles, and atvs.
I was a little leery, at first. Would we be getting stuck? Making our way onto the lake, I was delightfully surprised to find that we could ride on top of the crusted, hard-packed snow. Like a roller-coaster ride, we drove over numerous “snow moguls” as high as 4’. It was easy getting around.
Brad set up in a likely looking spot that had fish below him, while I searched other areas. Not wanting to set up a shelter, I found a high snow drift that offered protection from the wind. It looked to be the perfect spot.
I drilled a hole and started walking back to the snowmobile, for my equipment, and heard a strange sound. “What is that” I thought? Standing there for about thirty seconds, taking in the noise, I glanced back toward the hole and found the culprit. It was a gusher of water, almost looking like someone broke off a fire hydrant. The heavy snow was pushing water up at least a foot high. Well, so much for that spot.
I eventually set up my shelter and asked Brad to join me. He had Vexilar battery problems and was fishing without any electronics. We could easily use one unit, together, if he was fishing in the same shelter. Sitting there, fishing and chatting away, a snowmobile was heard crossing the lake, coming to a stop in front of my shelter.
He introduced himself as the game warden and asked to check our licenses. I told him “go to the back door.” To which he responded, “where’s that?” “In the back” I responded, laughing. I wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck, but all Ice Runner shelters have a “back door” entry.
He enters and I figured I might as well keep up the wise cracks by saying “I don’t need a license, I’m 90 years old.” He answered by saying “well, maybe 65.” Thank goodness he had a sense of humor and was extremely pleasant.
I had just realized, upon purchasing my license, that Minnesota residents under 16 or 90 or older don’t need a fishing license. Right away, I thought of my father, who turned 90 last August. I’m going to get him out in the boat this year, whether he likes it or not.
I complained to the warden that it was ridiculous to offer free fishing, once a person has reached 90 years old, and went on to say it should be a lot younger. Why not give these folks a chance to enjoy a few years of free fishing? It’s not like they’re buying that many licenses at that age anyway.
Then Brad pipes up “I suppose you bought a trout stamp too?” “Yes”, I answered. He went on to say, “you don’t need one if you’re over 65 years old”. I said I’ve been buying them each-and-every year, to which the warden stated, “thank you for contributing to our retirement fund.” Ha ha. That was good.
For as much as I fish, the yearly license fee for a resident married couple, which is what I buy, is only $40 and a “reel” deal. I’d gladly pay more. We have some of the best fishing opportunities in the country and are truly blessed.
After the perch outing, I decided to walk out and check one of our local panfish lakes, which has been off limits to everyone for two months because of the slush. Traveling as light as possible, I pulled a tote sled with minimal equipment.
I was surprised that I was able to walk to the “fishing hole” and not step into any slush. As a matter of fact, most of the walking was done on a hard-packed surface. I think it’s time to start using the snowmobile again, until the spring melt gets underway. Can’t wait!
Super-early, one recent morning, three deer were walking in the intersection, in front of my house. A country boy at heart, it was so cool to see. They eventually spooked and headed north, right down the middle of the street.
I’m sure many of them hang in and around town to escape the coyotes, of which there are plenty. Summer and fall has the deer eating flowers and apples, right off the trees, in various yards in town.
I can’t imagine the stress and tough times they go through. Especially during a winter like this one. How many little fawns will make it? I’m not sure I want to know.
While lake conditions have pretty much kept me off the lakes and at home most of the time, looking for something to do, it also gave me the opportunity to follow our local sports teams at a closer level and with-that-being-said, congratulations to the Greenway-Nashwauk-Keewatin Raiders hockey team. What a tremendous season. The entire North Country is proud of you. Thank you!
"I thought I’d try it again, but it didn’t happen. A run out to one of my favorite fishing holes, with the snowmobile, had me meeting huge slush pockets and deep snow. A precarious situation, I cautiously turned the Bearcat around and headed back to the access, without getting stuck. It looks like I’ll have to learn to be a bit more patient and wait until warmer weather mends lake conditions so we can get back to a normal March and late-ice.
The next outing, two days later, was another trip to Lake Superior, which is practically the only game in town, unless one wants to make the run up to Lake of the Woods.
Going solo, once again, I almost had seven heart attacks, pulling my shelter ½ mile out to deeper water and back. I didn’t last long on this day, as it was way too windy and cold. Driving back home, two hours later, I thought about the “Smitty” sled and wished I had one.
The “Smitty sled, which is actually patented and offered for sale on Facebook, is a simple elevated bracket that mounts on a pair of skis, making for easy hand towing across the lake.
Many anglers are configuring their own designs, made to match the type of equipment they’ll be using. Done right, you can easily pull your shelter, auger, heater, and all other needed equipment with one finger. It’s that easy.
“Smitty” sled kits are sold but you will need to find your own skis, which shouldn’t be all that hard to do.
So far, I’ve made three trips to Lake Superior and haven’t caught a fish. Pretty pathetic. I did, however, have one on for a second but it shook loose.
Other anglers have struggled too. Then again, some have had stellar days, catching as many as thirteen fish. Much like a lottery, you have to hit it on the right day and in the right spot, and there’s plenty of them out there. It’s up to you to find it.
My last trip was a short one, as well. Making it out to deeper water, around 140’, I found too much current and was unable to read my Vexilar. The current pushes your lure out of the cone angle and makes it undetectable to your electronics.
I remember fishing Chequamegon Bay, many years ago, and had to place my Vexilar in a hole about 10’ away from me. I was fishing one hole and reading the Vexilar from another. I also recall the tidal effect of the current coming to a halt and then reversing and going in the other direction. It’s kind of spooky knowing there’s that much moving water below your feet and you’re on somewhat thin ice.
On this day, it was too cold to stand outside and use this two-hole practice, so I kept heading toward shore, drilling holes, until the current subsided. In this case, it was at 84’. I thought the fish might possibly use this current break as an “edge.” You look for little things like that, when fishing big water.
I never caught anything but did see two fish, just off bottom. They weren’t interested at all in my offerings.
Snowmobiles and ATVs were running around on the big lake, which is something you don’t see very often. The big lake “breathes” and water is always moving, making it quite unpredictable.
As I was heading off the lake, I chatted with a nearby angler who said “if you follow my tracks, be careful at the crack. The ice is only 1” thick there. I was using a spud bar and it went right through.”
I should mention that some of our local favorite waters are getting back into the swing of things. High Banks on Winnie has the road opened back up and perch are biting. Geiger’s Trail’s End Resort on Big Bowstring has the road opened as well but just to be on the safe side, call before heading that way.
Also, did you remember to buy a new fishing license? Don’t forget. Good luck, be safe, and always have fun!"
"Totally miserable lake conditions have many resorts struggling to keep the ice roads open and this ranges from Mille Lacs Lake all the way to Lake of the Woods. Strong winds and snow have created problems, stranding many on the lakes, but this will be cleaned up and all will be fine. It’s the slush/water problems that some are dealing with that is creating havoc.
Some of the smaller bodies of water have resorts shutting down their roads due to flooding. It’s bad enough to have a lot of snow pushing down on the ice but when anglers get a little too lazy and drill holes on or too close to the roads, that’s when it gets to be just too much to handle and that’s too bad.
I can’t recall, ever, fishing so little. Lake conditions have kept me at bay, as well.
However, I did find a “little” spot that has no slush and hardly any snow and although it requires a little bit of a drive, it can be well worth the effort. I’m talking Lake Superior.
Yes, the largest lake in North America is now offering foot travel for some pretty darn nice fish. This doesn’t happen very often. As I was walking out on the ice, another hopeful and excited angler shouted to me “this is the chance of a lifetime.” That’s the mindset of many.
I’ve fished there before, years ago, when the ice had frozen up to the point where it was safe to walk out a fair distance. Back then, there was absolutely no snow cover and ice thickness was in the 10” range. The walk out scared me half to death, as you couldn’t tell how thick the ice was and the water was pitch black in color. Needless-to-say, we checked ice very often on the way out, scary stuff indeed.
Last week offered better conditions for walking, as there were occasional snow drifts, scattered throughout glare ice areas. I wore ice cleats and was glad I did. Who would think one would have clean ice, when compared to the terrible conditions we have here at home?
There are several areas to fish. It all depends on where you decide to wet a line. Unsure? Take a drive along the North Shore and notice groupings of cars, parked along the roads. You’ll find many options, but some of the access sites may require a bit more work, as some of them offer easy walking and others a real challenge due to broken ice, heaves, etc.
Pack light. That’s what I was told, and they were right. Thank goodness it was fairly-warm on this day that I didn’t need to pull a shelter with me. All necessary items (Vexilar, chair, rods, and tackle) were stowed away on a small sled.
Not really knowing what to expect, I had ice picks dangling around my neck. I wanted to be prepared, just in case. The ice, by the way, measured 10”. I thought “I could have brought my snowmobile” but that was just a passing thought, as the ice can be dangerous, especially where the cracks are. Also, there wasn’t one form of motorized travel out there but plenty of anglers. Kind of tells you something, doesn’t it?
The walk, about ¼ mile, wasn’t bad at all and allowed me to fish anywhere from 60 to 130’ of water.
Our group of seven spread out so electronic interference would be at a minimum. This also had us covering several different depths, some relating to structure and some not. Some were just fishing the deep-water basin, hoping a big lake trout would pass by.
One of the guys was sight-fishing in 60’ and saw a steady stream of herring below him. Also mixed in the school were two coho salmon and a lake trout. He wasn’t all that far away me and my partner and we weren’t seeing anything?
If there’s any problem at all in fishing a large body of water, it’s the fact that sometimes it’s like finding “a needle in a haystack.” Smaller lakes aren’t hard at all to figure out but large water? Good luck. It’s like playing the lottery at times.
A variety of baits were offered. Many had tied on a Northland Tackle “Mimic Minnow Tuff Tube”, as it was the lure of choice on the day before, when several fish were caught. This day, however, was a different story. We were struggling.
I only saw a handful of fish and had one on for a second before it shook off. Mike Patras, in our group, had a big fish on for a while before a snap broke open. It was one of those big ones, the kind we were looking for. It inhaled a Storm 360 soft bait and never shook like crazy, as many smaller trout do. This one was just very heavy and pretty much did what it wanted until free.
Good fishing but slow catching went on throughout the day and we ended up only putting five fish topside.
The recent mini cold snap should help out a lot of our local slush problems. It also means that I’ll be pulling a shelter with me on my next trip to Lake Superior.
Note: 2/26/19 After reading Greg Clusiau's report about the Lake Trout fishing on Lake Superior, I wondered how the ice conditions were in the aftermath of the weekend storm. I asked Jarrid Houston to share some information and here's what he offered.
"It (Lake Superior) is actually probably some of the most accessible ice in the upper Midwest right now. We do have snow covered ice, but nothing compared to the big waters of Northern MN.
We are currently accessing Lake Superior on the WI side (Superior, WI) with machines. Snowmobiles are better, but wheelers are doing just fine. Ice is anywhere from 6 to 14 inches thick on Wisconsin side.
On the Minnesota side, we are seeing some machine travel as well, but I have not brought out a wheeler for myself. Sherpa (one of our guides reported seeing side by sides out by Lester River.
There are thousands of anglers fishing the twin ports, so fish have certainly been pressured. The Laker bite still has been fair to good, but time on the water will prove results. I prefer to stay on the shallower side for more hook ups and multi-species and always still the chance at a Laker.
Many come here with a mentality to run and gun for these fish. In my opinion that is not the answer as you cannot chase these fish. Best to get out set up and be patient. It certainly can make for long hours sometimes, but sometimes it can be magical. Tight Lines & GoOd FiShN!" Capt. Jarrid" — Houston's Guide Service, Jarrid Houston 218-393-4962
A trip was made to Blue Lake, a local favorite, last week. Not because of the great potential the flooded reservoir offers but it was an opportunity to visit with longtime fishing buddy Luke Adam. Luke, an avid angler and teacher at Nashwauk-Keewatin high school, for the past 17 years, was fishing during mid-week. Hey! What’s going on here? Wasn’t he supposed to be “working?” Well, fact-of-the-matter is, he was, as it was the inaugural outing of the Spartan Angling Class.
Adam has been teaching this class, every day, since January 17, and this was their first opportunity to get out doors and do it “for real”. He applied for and succeeded in obtaining a grant from the Minnesota DNR, an effort to bolster angler recruitment and retention. The course will run through the end of the school year and pick up again in September.
This year, there are only 13 students involved with the program, but Adam expects it to be a full class next fall. Most students, two of which are girls, are in 9th and 10th grade, with a lone senior. Their ice fishing experience ranges from seasoned anglers to “never have done it before” but all have a ton of enthusiasm.
So far, there are a couple other possible fishing trips on the schedule. Luke mentioned the famed spring sturgeon bite on the Rainy River (all the kids want to try this one), along with Upper Red Lake walleyes, once the season gets going. Mille Lacs Lake has crossed his mind, as well. They’ll also be making a spring visit to the Cut Foot Sioux walleye egg stripping operation.
The class has adopted a local brook trout stream, Pickerel Creek, near Pengilly. Working with the DNR, they’ll be cleaning and maintaining the fragile stream that runs into Swan Lake.
It takes more than a grant to make a program like this successful and Adam has a lot of additional support. He already has a lot of donated fishing equipment fishing equipment for both summer and winter.
I asked, “where do you keep all of that stuff?” “In my room” Luke replied and laughed saying “it looks like a fishing emporium.”
Out on the lake, the students had beat me to it, and were all set up. Shelters were scattered across the first main bay, always a good spot to fish. Blue Lake was perfect for this outing, as it’s a local favorite fishery and almost always has a plowed road. This made it easy for the group to drive out. The rest was not so easy.
Mother Nature was quite rude on this inaugural day, offering deep snow, slush, gusting winds and snow, but the kids loved it.
Nathan Bird had room in his Eskimo hub fish house and offered me shelter from the storm. I had a good chance to visit with him and catch a few fish of my own, about two dozen of them.
Luke was busy showing the students how to go about setting up a dark house for spearing northern pike. Wading through deep and slushy snow, they found a suitable spot close to shore. This is a lot of fun. It’s the hole cutting that can wear a person out.
Halfway through the outing, principal Ranae Seykora rolled up to check things out. There was a good deal of activity taking place and I could tell from the smile on her face that she greatly approved. And if I’m not mistaken, I think “somebody” got stuck out there? Hmm. Can’t really remember.
Everyone was catching fish, as there are a lot of them out there. The big challenge is to find a few of the bigger ones. Fish kept were going back to the school, where Luke would put on a fish-cleaning clinic. These kids are going to learn each-and-every aspect of the sport of fishing.
The Spartan Angling Class, like any other high school class, is a place for students to learn. On this day, they learned how to set up for spearing, how to “go small” for catching panfish, how to set up a shelter properly and stay comfortable.
Some of the students even learned the importance of anchoring down a hub shelter when it’s windy out. I realized this, when I saw one go floating past me, tumbling and lifting in the air, all the way to the other shore. Hey, it’s all fun and I hope they learned a lesson here.
Special thanks to The Great Outdoors in Pengilly for the bait, the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association, Minnesota DNR, Bio Bait, Northland Tackle, Grand Rapids L&M, and NK-G Transportation.
*Note – anyone wishing to donate to the Spartan Angling Class, please contact Luke Adam at Nashwauk-Keewatin high school or principal Ranae Seykora.
"It’s sometimes hard to come up with new thoughts for an article, when things haven’t changed all that much, meaning this miserable weather. Best options to fish, as I constantly state, are plowed ice roads out of resorts. That, or local fisheries that receive a lot of pressure, to the point that a well-beaten-down trail is available.
My last outing has been a week ago, in an effort to do a little exploring. Gaining access through a well-traveled resort, I planned on checking out other deeper waters that were basically untouched. This meant I had to bring along the snowmobile.
Looking over the weather forecast, it showed a major snowfall beginning around 6:00 pm. This would work perfect. I would hit the lake around 1:00 pm, fish until dark, and then skedaddle, before the heavy snows got underway.
Well, even the best laid plans can go haywire and they did on this outing. First off, it was already starting to snow by the time I reached the lake, not a lot, but you could tell it was going to get bad.
Pulling the trailer out on the lake, I unloaded the Bearcat and headed to greener pastures. I was anxious to check out the lake because the day prior, my brother, Scott, and I rewired and mounted my Humminbird Helix 7 graph on the snowmobile dash. The big, and accurate, screen made it a lot easier to see exactly where I was going and just where I preferred to fish.
Halfway to my pre-picked destination, the Bearcat started to bog down. My first thought was the belt was slipping, until I turned around and saw all the slush. It was deep and water was flying everywhere. Lucky for me, I had a travel cover on my shelter.
I “pinned” it and got the machine to a more stable area that looked to be “fishable.” Walking off to the side, carrying the auger, I broke through the surface and found myself standing in slush and water up to my shins.
A hole was drilled and I fished just long enough to catch a small perch. It was time to move on. This is the scary part. I knew I had to give it all it had to get out of there and by now it was a white-out. I had trouble in seeing my truck and trailer, which weren’t all that far away, maybe ¼ mile.
Out of the “risky area”, I traveled fast enough to insure myself a decent chance of not getting stuck. I drove right to the truck, loaded up, and went home. I had fished less than an hour and was already on the road, heading back home. At least I had a little common sense. Back “in the day”, I would have pushed the limit, staying until dark and flirting with getting stuck out there for the night.
The next morning, I had more than enough snow to remove from the back yard. There was a lot. I had to do it in shifts, shovel, rest, shovel, rest, etc.
Things were looking pretty good until I happened to glance at the roof of my house. The snow was quite high and needed to be dealt with.
Resting long enough to recharge, I climbed atop the roof and begin another workout. The snow was deep indeed, reaching 3 ½’ in areas.
When finished, I had all the open areas that I had shoveled earlier, filled back up with an even heavier snow. Frustrating. I left it until the next day.
Early the next morning, my little dog, Lily, needed to go to the bathroom, I thought. This had me shoveling a walking trail, in my pajamas, at 5:00 am. I showed Lily what I had done for her and she turned away, not interested at all in going outside. Grrr.
Four hours later, my lower back was killing me and still is to this day. I can’t even lift a shovel (I wonder if I can lift a fishing rod?) and as much as I like to fish, I’m afraid to even try it. I can’t imagine lifting and carrying an auger and drilling a hole in the ice. Using a snowmobile is totally out of the question.
So, for now, I’ll be watching way too much television, and living vicariously through others fishing reports. I never thought that would happen.
I am, however, getting more prepared than ever for the City Auto Glass Walleye Classic to be held on Lake Vermilion, May 18. Looks like I’ll be opening the season there, once again. It’s a fun event and the $15,000 first prize is nothing to sneeze at.
For those not wanting to risk getting stuck on the lakes, check out the 53 Annual Duluth Boat, Sports, Travel, & RV Show, held February 13 – 17 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
So, there I was, sitting out in the middle of the lake, minding my own business. I had arrived before the sun was up, in an effort to take advantage of a possible early-morning crappie bite that never did happen.
It was now a little after 7 am and I could finally see just what was going on. Beforehand, with a light breeze added to the mix, I had trouble with my fishing lines getting wrapped up around the end of the rods and anything else possible. That’s what happens when using 2 and 3 pound test and you’re in the dark.
Now, with lines retied with new jigs and all set for a little action, I was back in the game.
The air temperature was just warm enough to be fishing outside, without the use of a shelter, which was stowed in the back of the truck, just in case.
Standing there, with my back to the wind, I was focusing on the Vexilar and never noticed the visitor, until it was about 100 yards away. Walking quickly, with that tell-tale “wolf-like” gait.
My first thought was “is that a wolf?” Closely watching the animal, as it neared my truck, I wasn’t sure. Dismissing it as a large domestic dog, but not quite certain, I looked back down at my Vexilar and forgot about it for a second or two, until something touched the back of my leg.
That’s when I wished someone was filming, because it startled the daylights out of me. I jumped, thinking I was going to be attacked, but soon realized it was a beautiful Siberian Husky, I think. I slowly reached out and rubbed the top of its head, which it clearly enjoyed. Then it ambled off, across the lake, leaving me still wondering.
Oh, the things that take place, when one is in the outdoors most every day.
I see mention of a lot of ice fishing contests taking place across the state. I used to enter as many as was feasible. It was always a lot of fun, but I did eventually realize that it was more like winning the lottery, as much luck is involved, especially with the large, grand events.
The first one, called the “Golden Rainbow” contest, took place on Forest Lake in 1984. I purchased a ticket for what I think was $35 and set out to win a house. Yes, they were actually giving away a new modular home.
The place was packed, and excitement was high for all. Buses shuttled us from the parking area to the contest site, where all holes were pre-drilled and waiting for some lucky angler. I remember lining up with everyone else, waiting for the “shotgun start”.
Not really knowing exactly where I was running to, I stopped about a third of the way out and started fishing. I had too much gear, like normal.
I learned one thing right away and that was I should’ve worn all-rubber boots, because thousands of anglers in one spot created a small lake on top of the ice. My feet were wet from the start but there I stood, for the next several hours, hoping to catch the big one.
Well, needless-to-say, I didn’t win a thing but that didn’t stop me from entering again the next year. This time, I was prepared, as I slid my boot liners inside of “bread bags” before the event. It didn’t work and I ended up with the same results as the previous year.
I’ve been all over, fishing these big events (Forest Lake, Brainerd Jay Cees, Side Lake, Lake of the Woods, etc.) There’s just something special about it but I learned a long time ago that it’s better to be lucky than good.
I did place one time, while fishing on Lake of the Woods in Manitoba.
I was sitting there, visiting with outdoor writer and good friend Brad Dokken, when I thought I saw my rod twitch. Slowly picking up the rod, I set the hook and a fish was on. Oh my!
Getting it to the surface, I found it to be a Minnesota-type “hammer-handle” northern pike. It was small but possibly worthy of a prize of some sort.
I noticed that when ever anyone caught a fish and was bringing it up to the official weigh station that most of the crowd would chant “go, go, go”. Most fish-catchers ended up running and stumbling their way to the weigh master.
I wasn't going to do that, as it was a long way to run, so I dropped it in a 5-gallon bucket and slowly sauntered my way there. The fish was registered, and I returned to Brad to finish out the contest.
When the event ended, we stood around to see where I would place, if at all. I was surprised when they called out my name, finishing 14th or somewhere in there, and winning a nice MotorGuide trolling motor. The fish, by the way, tipped the scale at .58 pounds.
The winning fish ended up being a 6 pound non-game fish, beating out a 6 pound walleye because it was entered first. The winner, and get this, received a brand-new pickup truck, with an ATV in the back, and it was pulling a shiny boat, motor, and trailer!
So just go. You never know.
Good luck, be safe, keep your feet dry, and by all means, have fun.
Accurate mapping has become a must-have tool for today's savvy ice angler, as it allows you to make smart location decisions before drilling a hole.
Wired2Fish's Ryan DeChaine explains how he uses custom mapping created during the open water period on the ice to map out and strategically drill holes.
Detailed contours lines coupled with bottom hardness and vegetation overlay data add valuable information to ..." View Video and Learn More >> Ice Fishing With Custom Mapping - Find Fish Fast
"Cold weather got you down? Hang in there, because it’s forecasted to be wonderful ice fishing weather this weekend and it’s about time. Man. What a stretch of miserable weather we’ve had. Hanging around the house, I was getting a bit stir crazy. Even a trip to Walmart was somewhat exciting. Isn’t that sad? At least the frigid temps should have stiffened up all that slush, making it a lot easier to get around.
Prior the cold-snap, I visited a few of the resorts, knowing full well they would have plowed ice roads to some of the best bites going. This includes walleye, perch, and crappie. It all depends on which lake you care to fish.
Prepping for each trip usually takes place the night before and believe it or not, a lot of planning usually goes into each outing. Everything from fish species, tackle, rods, and clothing, to lake mobility. How will I get around the lake?
Super-cold days will have me leaving the snowmobile at home. I just don’t care to do that anymore. Especially when there is a good chance of running into slush. Been there, done that, too many times. I guess I finally learned. Like the time we left all our equipment out in the middle of the lake, returning days later to retrieve it.
Clothing is a huge consideration and much depends on how I am going to fish a particular body of water.
If the weather is marginable, I’ll dress somewhat light, but have plenty of extra clothes in the back seat. I’ll drive to the lake, looking like I was just making a run to the store. Once there, if a resort is handy, I’ll put on the “bibs and boots” inside. It’s certainly a lot easier than hopping around on one foot, trying to keep your socks dry, while standing out on the lake.
The boots are usually kept in the house at night and placed in the truck before heading out. That way, they’re nice and warm. Also, my feet won’t sweat, while wearing warm boots in the truck. Especially if it’s a long ride. Short drive? Like to Blue Lake, which takes ten minutes. Then I’ll dress “ready to fish” and not worry about getting too warm. All is considered.
Many have seen me, with pants tucked into my boots (I always say I look like a jockey LOL), and there’s good reason for this stylish dress. I prefer to keep my pant cuffs dry so when I go home, all I do is slip out of the boots and I’m ready for the inside.
Drilling holes, quickly pulling the auger up to clean of slush, gets water all over everything. Pant legs left over the boots get frozen chunks of ice all over and make a mess, especially during cold weather. Returning home like this has me hanging bibs in the basement to drip dry for the next day.
I’m surprised that I make it throughout most of the winter by wearing lighter insulated Muck boots. Up to the knee, they’re perfect for drilling holes and I’ve kept fairly-warm with them. However, when I know I’ll be standing outside a lot and it’s going to be cold, I’ll put on a heavier pair of insulted boots. They may be heavy and clumsy but at least they’re warm. The pant legs go inside these as well.
Gloves? I usually don’t wear any but will slip a pair on if needed. I’ve caught plenty of tight-lipped panfish, while wearing gloves. You wouldn’t think you’d be able to “feel” the bites, but you can, in a sense.
Although I use highly-sensitive Tuned Up Custom Rods, I always find myself studying the end of the rod when a fish gets near my bait. By closely watching the rod-tip, you can see the lightest of bites, even before you feel them. It may only be a slight difference in the line or bend in the rod, but it signals a fish is on the other end. Time to set the hook, and hard.
I made a trip to Blue Lake a few weeks ago and bumped into an angler, who was just getting back into the sport of ice fishing, after an 18 year hiatus.
Observing the angler’s new equipment, I noticed there wasn’t any type of electronics. Greg to the rescue. I usually have an extra Vexilar with me, just in case.
I said, “of all equipment, some type of electronics is absolutely necessary if you want to catch fish on a consistent basis.”
A crash course on using the Vexilar took place and within minutes, I had made my case. And although the angler had nice rod and reel, I noticed the line was too heavy. “It’s 8 pound test” said the angler. I gave several reasons why a lighter line should be used and offered a spool of 3-pound test Berkley Ice Line.
The angler had a new 10” power auger but I just had to demonstrate my 8” K-Drill. It went on and on, from jigs, spoons, baits, etc. Finally, I had to leave.
A few days later, I received a text from the angler saying a new Vexilar was purchased, along with a K-Drill, and fish were being caught.
I do this all the time. I’ll demo any product to anyone that wishes to see or use what I have. Yes, I work with these companies, but the real bottom line is, I want people to catch more fish. Isn’t that why you’re out there in the first place?
Good luck, always be safe, and have fun.
"Sloppy lake conditions most always force me to go elsewhere and with that said, I’m referring to larger lakes with resort plowed ice roads. Hey, may as well make it easy. This time, it was High Banks Resort on Big Winnie, which is in its 90th year of doing business!
The first time I’ve been there this winter, it was nice to touch base with owners Rick and Kim Leonhardt and that was somewhat difficult to do, as they were running steady, like normal, keeping up with supplies, customers, cabin cleaning, and ice roads. These are some busy folks.
Behind the bar, holding down the fort, was Pat O’Reilley. Pat owns Northland Lodge, which closes for the winter months. He was quite busy as well, serving customers with whatever their needs were (reservations, road passes, minnows, drinks, and more) and answering a phone that seemingly was ringing non-stop.
Yes, it’s a busy place, especially when plowed ice roads are in such high demand, and Rick has many, many miles of them, reaching out to several prime fishing locations. Large loops, in front of the resort, are made and each one features multiple “spur roads”, where parking locations are set up for wheel houses. Yes, there are plenty of places to fish and one doesn’t have to worry about crowding.
No matter how many times I’ve driven on ice roads, I always have a special feeling when doing so. It’s nice knowing that I won’t be beating up my truck, trying to make it across the lake. Now, even two-wheel drive vehicles have equal opportunity to catch a fish or two.
The main roads are in excellent shape, being extremely wide and looking like a four-lane highway, and have at least 20” of ice. That’s plenty safe for most anything.
A lineup of customer wheel houses sat close to the resort, on each side of the road. They’re just parked there for the time being, waiting for regular customers to bring them back out on the lake each weekend.
Scattered in depths, from 14’-30’, High Banks has fifteen rental shelters (5 sleepers, 5 day-houses, and 5 spear houses), offering anglers many options. Also, their resident guide, Dave Farrand, has three sleepers as well.
The fishing report was consistent with most other area lakes, being somewhat slow. I noticed this after the big snowfall we received. It seemed that most fishing slowed down after that. However, O’Reilley said “everyone is catching fish. No one’s getting skunked.”
Rick stated that the lake was clearing up pretty good, compared to being murky after first ice.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do on this mid-week day but brought along a bunch of fishing gear, just in case. Well, you know me. “When in Rome.” I had to give it a go.
It was a little cool out, and breezy, but I drove around long enough to find a likely looking spot to try. Bare-in-mind, I didn’t bring along any live bait and it was midday. I knew I would be in for a challenge.
Not wanting to set up a shelter, I parked so the truck would block some of the wind and drilled a few holes about 50’ off the road. A reminder! DO NOT drill on any ice roads. It may be nice and easy for you but often floods the entire road. Unfortunately, it happens every year.
I found my spot by following the Navionics mapping, installed on my cell phone. If you fish a fair amount and haven’t used this, you need to do so. It’ll save you a lot of time, when it comes to drilling holes.
I set up on the edge of a steep breakline in 32’ of water. Most walleye action takes place early and late in the day, so I wasn’t too concerned about them. I was hoping to find a few jumbo perch. Many times, they’ll be concentrating a little deeper, especially during the midday hours.
It took two moves before I found any fish. At first, they would come up and inspect my bait, which was a Jig Rap at the time, but it was too much for them. At least they were showing signs of interest. I knew they would bite if I presented the right bait. But again, I had no live bait to help entice them. I think crappie minnows would have done very well.
Going to a small panfish presentation, a 1/80 ounce hair jig (made by Skunky’s Jigs), hanging 12” below a silver dropper spoon (for attraction), I was able to catch a few perch (one very nice) and a tullibee before calling it a day. That was it. I had fished an hour and had enough fun. I just wanted to see if anything could be caught and the answer is YES. If I had minnows along, I may have stayed and waited for the evening walleye bite.
Get out there and DO IT.
For more information, contact High Banks Resort on Facebook, www.highbanks.com, or phone (218) 246-2560.
Another outing is in the books for the famed Minnesota walleye. This time, my son-in-law, David Holmbeck, and I did a day-trip to Lake of the Woods. It’s kind of a killer trip, seeing how it’s about 3 ½ hours one way, but usually well worth it.
Recent reports, from friends that were up there, had anglers doing very well, catching several fish. Limits were easy to achieve, and numbers of bigger fish were being caught as well.
The weather was nice, with roads being clear and dry. This makes for easy traveling. It’s so nice not dragging a snowmobile trailer along. Especially that distance. There was no need to, as the ice roads had plenty of solid ice and vehicle traffic was the norm.
The only downside was that the deer are still doing quite a bit of running during the twilight hours and we had to be on our toes, or brakes, some of the time. We encountered quite a few of them.
Our destination was Adrian’s Resort. I heard several good reports from anglers fishing “out of Adrian’s”.
Once to the lake, we traveled about 7 miles out and picked out a spot to fish. This is sort of like a lottery, as the 32’ depth remains constant and it’s up to the angler to find that hungry pod of fish.
Yes, the plowed roads are all over the place but one can drive “off the road” to reach those isolated areas that may hold walleye. We used my truck, which did the job, but I wished I had better “gripper” tires, as we got stuck a few times. Not bad, but just enough to slow our plans.
Setting up, using two holes each, I told David “I’m setting the dead-stick half way down and jigging the other rod near the bottom.” He set both of his rods just off bottom but quickly adjusted one of them after I caught two fish that were cruising at 15’ below the ice.
We caught a few quick fish but then it slowed, for about an hour or so.
Leaving our portable shelter set up, with all gear inside, we grabbed a couple rods, minnows, and Vexilars, and took off in search of a better spot.
Snowbanks were challenging but there are low spots that allow one to bust through the berms, in order to get off the road a way.
Our first attempt worked. Driving 50’ off the ice road, holes were drilled, and two quick fish were caught. It was time to resettle, so back to base camp we went. It certainly didn’t take too much time for us to toss everything in the truck and move. We wanted to get back to that spot before the fish had decided to leave. One never knows.
Once set up, it took a while before the bites started happening, but it wasn’t fast and furious.
When it slowed down, we’d venture outside and drill a few more holes. The weather was favorable for this.
It was a sporadic bite for most of our day, but we still managed to catch about 20 fish. Nothing big. Well, we did lose 3-4 heavy fish. One was right in the hole. Most were of the smaller variety but went in the fish bucket anyway.
For the most part, sauger were caught closer to bottom and walleyes about half way down, but one never knew until pulled through the hole.
Best baits? I’m not sure there was one. I caught my first fish on a big “glassy/glow” jig that was purchased along with the minnows at Adrian’s. You know how fishermen are. I can’t go in a bait shop without buying a little more tackle, especially if it was something I hadn’t tried before.
The trip in review: Nice roads, easy travel, great weather (a little breezy), good lake travel, decent fishing, smaller fish, and a good time. I’d do it again.
On the local ice fishing scene, many lakes are offering challenging travel, as slush is more than abundant. These are the times that you may want to go through a resort so you can use a plowed ice road. Lake of the Woods?
Most fish are coming from water depths of 28 to 31 feet, with an early morning, late evening bite occuring shallower. Water depths of 15 to 22 feet along many shoreline areas are best for the prime time feeding runs.
Jigging one line, deadsticking with a second using with lively minnows is the best strategy. Gold, glow red, pink and glow colors have been consistent.
Some anglers using noise and flash to attract and catch fish, but don't overlook using a ..." Read More >> Lake of the Woods Ice fishing Reports January 15, 2019
"Most walleye producing waters, in our area, provide the best opportunity to catch a couple during the low-light periods of early-morning and late afternoon/evening. Large walleye waters, like Big Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake, for example, fall into this category, as do local favorites like Swan and Trout Lake.
Sure, you can “luck out” and catch one or two, on occasion, during the mid-day hours, but that is pretty much not the case. It’s fishing the small windows, usually about 1 ½ to 2 hours, during the light-changing periods, that will get it done for you.
Thank goodness for lakes that allow you to catch fish all day long. Three walleye factories that immediately come to mind, when speaking of an all-day-bite, are Mille Lacs Lake, Upper Red Lake, and Lake of the Woods. These lakes, however, are much like all walleye waters, offering better action early and late in the day.
If you have to drive a bit and spend some time on the road, in order to reach your walleye destination, you may as well have the opportunity to catch fish all day long.
I’ve been on Upper Red Lake many times and usually come away with a nice limit of fish and enjoyed fairly-steady action throughout the day. That lake is always fun.
Lake of the Woods usually never fails but I don’t get up there as much as I would like to. A one-way 3- hour drive can do that to you. Day-trips are a bugger and one is better off spending the night somewhere.
Mille Lacs? I’ve only ice fished it one time in my life, before last weekend, and on that occasion, I never caught a walleye, only one monster smallmouth that made the In-Fisherman magazine.
Tournament fishing partner, Andy Walsh, has now settled on the shores of Mille Lacs and spends a good deal of time on the big water, summer and winter. This comes in real handy, when pre-fishing needs to be done for a walleye tournament. It also helps when he pre-fishes it before I make the trip there during the winter months. There’s no time wasted, searching around. Just go to the spot(s) and start catching fish. Perfect! And it’s only an hour and a half away.
It also helps, when someone who has fished the lake for nearly three decades is a member of your fishing party and that guy is Cal Flander.
Cal tested the waters, the day before my trip, and caught over fifty fish by himself. Now that’s enough to talk anybody into going.
Joined by Lake Superior charter captain, Lorin LeMire, and his son, Joe, the five of us gave it a full day last Saturday, fishing from dark-to-dark.
We used snowmobiles and traveled from Andy’s place to a few spots, six miles out on the lake. It’s a little rough out there, so speed was kept to a minimum but it’s an excellent way to reach the little hotspots that Cal had found on the day before.
If there’s a problem at all, with ice fishing Mille Lacs Lake for walleye, it’s the limit. For those wanting to catch a fish or two for dinner, the limit is only one, and it needs to measure between 21” and 23” (or one over 28”). Out of Cal’s fifty fish, the day before, only one was in that “magical” slot limit.
The DNR sure has this one figured out. I wonder what changes for the lake Sarah Strommen, our new DNR commissioner, will have in mind, seeing how her first love is fishing. Now that’s a good thing.
Cal might have been a little disappointed in our success, but we weren’t complaining. Catching was considerably slower on this day but the five of us still managed to ice over sixty walleyes (and not a one in the keeping slot). That’s pretty darn good, if you ask me.
And with the one fish limit, one would think that you’d practically have the entire 128,000 acres to yourself. That is definitely not the case.
Blink your eyes and imagine that you’re fishing on Upper Red Lake. Well, it’s not quite that busy but not too far from it. Little groupings of anglers were scattered all-across the lake. Thankfully, the lake is big enough that no one was really crowded. There’s plenty of productive water out there.
There was also a lot of trucks and wheel houses on the big water. Many resorts have plowed ice roads, enabling anxious anglers to reach their desired locations. It’s amazing when you think about it. Most all these anglers are out there just because “they like to catch fish.” They’re not too concerned about bringing anything home.
One resort reported that a stream of wheel houses, the night before, lasted for a solid three hours, and that’s just one report.
It’s happening out on Mille Lacs Lake. If you want to get in on the fun, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty of fish to be caught (and released).