Ways to Extend Your Ice Fishing Season

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Well, the walleye and northern pike seasons ended yesterday here in Minnesota. This always leaves me feeling a little adrift with respect to the remainder of my ice fishing season. Most of my energy is spent chasing those toothy predators; nothing else quite measures up.

But I love ice fishing. I’d rather make use of the time left than hang my head and stuff my gear back up in the top of the garage again.  

Little perch ice fishingIf you’re like me, you could use a few ways to extend your ice fishing season. Perch and panfish always come to mind here in Minnesota, and there are two good reasons for that. First, the season doesn’t end. Second, they’ll start cooperating again with oxygen levels rising and spawning season approaching. But the number of places to find truly large perch is small these days, and panfish are showing signs of overharvest. Fortunately, there are many more opportunities if a person is willing to branch out and do something new. 

Tullibees and Lake Whitefish

These members of the salmonid family are quite active in the winter months. They are fun to catch and top-notch eating, too. I like to hit Mille Lacs once or twice a year just for the tullibee action, and I’m hoping the “Tullibee Hole” in the south end of the lake will heat up while I can still drive out there this year.

Tullibee ice fishingTullibees and whitefish generally inhabit the colder, deeper lakes in the northern half of Minnesota. Other notable destinations include Leech Lake and sometimes Winnibigoshish for tullibees and Lake of the Woods for lake whitefish. 

These silvery torpedoes cruise the muddy bottoms, sucking up invertebrates. Successful anglers will be found offering smaller baits that cater to that kind of appetite. Catch a few and treat them to a day in your smoker– I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Trout

The winter seasons for lake trout and stream trout alike extend until the end of March, which will basically cover the rest of the ice season. The lakes where stream trout are stocked are basically put-and-take fisheries since they don’t reproduce in lakes. For that reason, I’m not bashful about keeping some to eat. When it comes to lake trout, I’m a bit more selective, but still love to take one or two home as allowed by the regulations. The BWCA has many trout lakes a person could walk to and from in a day, and will easily still have ice until the end of March even in warm years. Try your hand at winter camping to make it a real adventure. 

Eelpout

I have yet to catch an eelpout. That’s mostly because I don’t live anywhere near good places to catch eelpout (or burbot, ling, freshwater cod, etc.). When I was young, people used to catch them famously in Mille Lacs and toss them out in the snow like garbage. They’ve all but disappeared from there now, due to a warming lake and probably a host of contributing factors. But the ‘pout are still found in abundance other places; the closer you get to Canada, the more likely you are to find them. 

There has actually been a surge of interest in eelpout the last few years, and that’s kinda cool. This is probably due to their catchability in the late season as they prepare to spawn. The problem is, an increase of interest could put a strain on the population. So it would be wise for anybody seeking them to take smaller specimens for the table and release the larger ones for spawning- as we do with other fish at the top of the food chain. 

Border Waters

Yesterday’s tip-up fishing extravaganza ended in a whimper and I was left with a lot more sucker minnows than I care to admit. Fortunately, the walleye/sauger/pike season is still open until March 1st on the St. Croix border with Wisconsin. I might head there later this week. On the Mississippi, that season doesn’t actually end! Not bad. Plus, the St. Croix is host to an ever-increasing population of large lake sturgeon, which have been getting a fair amount of attention in recent years. 

South Dakota border waters also offer walleye/northern fishing until March 1st, and Iowa border waters boast a non-closing season just like the Mississippi. I’m actually contemplating a run for the Iowa border this year because I’d like to catch my first yellow bass. That would be a fun way to spend a warm afternoon…

Rules for our border waters with Canada are also generous, albeit somewhat complicated. Check the regulations before you go. 

 

 

 

 

Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake

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I don’t keep a bucket list. If I did, one of the items on it going into 2020 would have been ice fishing Devils Lake. When that opportunity recently landed in my lap, I couldn’t resist. It was a “Communicator Camp,” arranged by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), where Devils Lake Tourism and Clam Outdoors hosted several media professionals like myself. 

We assembled the first night, and were given a warm welcome (and the game plan) by Devils Lake Tourism’s Suzie Kenner and Tanner Cherney. Two members of the Clam Outdoors Ice Team– Thayne Jensen and Tony Mariotti- also gave us an overview of all the equipment we’d be using. Everything sounded so good until the conversation turned to the weather.  Continue reading “Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake”

Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake

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Nobody smiles at 4:40 am. Nobody at my house, anyway. But Friday morning, I woke my kids up that early, knowing they would be smiling a lot that day- eventually. They had the day off from school, and we had a big day planned at Mille Lacs Lake. 

Our little Ford Escape slinked down the resort ramp between rumbling trucks and wheelhouses, out onto the white expanse. It was a few minutes before sunrise, but we wouldn’t see the sun that day due to thick cloud cover. Temps were expected to rise about ten degrees to near 30 by day’s end. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day, but it could have been a lot worse.  Continue reading “Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake”

Trip Report: Lake Mille Lacs, January 2019

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Easy victories, camaraderie in the outdoors, a warm place to lay my head at night. These are all things I like as much as the next guy. When I pried myself out of bed last Thursday morning, however, I knew none of these things awaited me on Lake Mille Lacs. The lack of all three things, however, pointed toward a high probability of good fishing, which was more than I could resist. 

The latest buzz hinted that the west side of the main lake was just becoming accessible, and some folks had gotten out to the mud flats on ATVs and snowmobiles and found great fishing. The ice wasn’t reliably thick yet, it was said to be wet around cracks, and roads and bridges had not yet been extended past the bays. I don’t have a snowmobile or ATV, and I have no interest in being that guy who ends up needing a towing hookup at the bottom of the lake. My plan, if you could call it that, was to drive to the lake and see if it looked reasonable to walk out to the nearest mud flat. If it seemed foolhardy, I knew there was some fishing activity happening near some resorts, which I could fall back on. What I found when I arrived exceeded expectations; there was a well-worn road coming off the public access already, which immediately split off in three directions. I quickly packed up and started hightailing it for my destination, some 2 miles distant.  Continue reading “Trip Report: Lake Mille Lacs, January 2019”

Do Something New: Ice Fishing in the BWCA (Lessons Learned)

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Last week at this time, my immediate environment was about as good as it gets. I was in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for the first time in winter, trying to catch some bonus fish for the 2017-18 season. The MN DNR’s website pointed me to a lake within a moderate hike from an entry point, which has historically supported a bountiful tullibee fishery. I had wanted to fish it so badly in February or March, but gave up when I had a lot of work on my plate that prevented me from getting away. However, an extended period of abnormal cold preserved the ice perfectly for a good three weeks or more, prolonging the ice fishing season. I saw it as my chance.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Ice Fishing in the BWCA (Lessons Learned)”

2017-18 Ice Fishing Retrospective: Winter Colors and Textures

 

Coregonus artedi, Mille Lacs Lake, February 2018

 

The harsh, stark nature of Winter usually belies its inherent beauty. Those who stay indoors just to keep their cheeks warm will miss every opportunity to see new things, and even worse, new ways to see old things. Blues and grays can overwhelm, but their infinite shades and gradations challenge even the best artists to replicate with any degree of authenticity. Pines, spruces, firs, and cedars become minor celebrities for a time, soon to yield again to every manner of flower. Snow is ubiquitous, obscuring much of what we know under its nurturing torpescence. But even snow yields visual treasures on occasion; sun, wind, and warmth give it countless ephemeral forms that beg us to go, to find.

Continue reading “2017-18 Ice Fishing Retrospective: Winter Colors and Textures”

Do Something New: Ice Fishing for Mille Lacs Tullibees

Mille Lacs ice walleye, tullibee

As I coasted down the hill into Garrison, the eastern sky glowed with the clean blue light of impending sunrise.  A few minutes later, a lone cloud streak in the East lit up like a hot poker.  I always enjoy a good sunrise and this one made me feel I was in the right place at the right time.  After waiting out what seemed like weeks of below-zero punishment, I was looking forward to spending the entire day on Lake Mille Lacs, in the sun and near-thawing temps.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Ice Fishing for Mille Lacs Tullibees”