Some of the best places to do ice fishing in Minnesota include Lake Vermilion, Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs Lake, Upper Red Lake, Rainy Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, and Lake Minnetonka. Some tips and tricks to increase the chances of catching more fish include carrying the right fishing gear, lures, and baits and drilling several holes. Observing their behavior can also increase the chances of catching your preferred species. Always ensure you keep your safety first by checking the ice thickness and wearing warm clothes before venturing out. Remember, some lakes have different restrictions and regulations, so ensure you check with them and obtain a license before you start ice fishing.
The ice fishing season in Minnesota starts early and ends late. This guide will help you identify the best ice fishing lakes in Minnesota, the types of fish available, the required fishing gear and licenses, and tips and tricks you can use to increase the chances of catching more fish.
Best Places for Ice Fishing in Minnesota
Minnesota has over 10,000 lakes that are home to thousands of fish species. Here is a list of the best lakes to visit for your next ice fishing adventure.
1. Gull Lake
The Gull lake is among Minnesota’s largest lakes, covering approximately 9,400 acres of surface. This lake attracts over 10,000 anglers participating in the annual charitable fishing event hosted by Hole in the Day Bay. The lake is home to different fish species, including the northern pike, walleye, bass, trout, perch, and muskie.
The best thing about ice fishing here is there are different lodges, ice house rentals, and Minnesota resorts where you can restock your baits before you go ice fishing. You can also rent portable structures and ice fishing gear if you don’t have one.
2. Lake Minnetonka
This metropolitan lake is just 24 kilometers away from Minneapolis. Covering over 14,500 acres of surface, Lake Minnetonka is an excellent lake with several interconnecting lakes.
Lake Minnetonka has two bays where most ice anglers prefer setting up their shack. Saint Albans Bay is popular among anglers targeting bass, panfish, and pike.
On the other hand, Seton Lake Bay attracts anglers interested in ice fishing panfish, bluegill, and black crappies. Seton Lake Bay is also kid-friendly, so you can consider it if you’re planning to bring your kids along.
3. Lake Vermilion
This lake is located in an area known as Cook and Tower. Its shoreline covers approximately 1200 miles, thus providing ample space for ice fishing. The lake has 365 islands, and you can do ice fishing on any of them.
Lake Vermillion is a great destination for anglers targeting walleye fishing, northern pike muskies, and bass. You can also go fishing in other parts of the lake, but finding the right spot can be challenging.
However, the eastern end of this lake has big fish, but the winds are stronger. Although the western side doesn’t have a precise range, you can have a great catch since the weather is usually calm.
4. Lake Winnibigoshish
Lake Winnibigoshish, also known as Lake Winnie, is located in the Chippewa National Forest, just a few minutes from Grand Rapids. It’s home to walleyes and jumbo yellow perch. In addition, this lake has many northern pikes, and you can easily catch a 10-pound northern pike using shiner minnows.
There are multiple ice house rentals and lodges surrounding this lake where you can rest while waiting to go ice fishing. Some lodges allow you to use their fishing gear at a small fee.
While here, you can also participate in other recreational activities, such as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, offered in Chippewa National Forest.
5. Mille Lacs Lake
Mille Lacs Lake is the second-largest frozen lake in Minnesota, covering around 200 square miles of the surface. Every winter, you’ll see over 5,500 ice anglers from all over the world trying to catch their favorite fish species.
This lake is walleye heaven as it has thousands of walleyes and other popular ice fish species like the jumbo perch, northern pike, black crappie, muskie, bluegill, bass, and tullibee. Ensure you stock enough waxworms and jig heads because walleyes love feeding on them.
Numerous hotels and ice fishing rentals will rent you their fishing gear and ice shanty. There are also local shops where you can restock your lures and baits.
This is the best place to be if you love ice fishing at night, as the lake offers several ice sleeper fish houses. Here you can cook your favorite catch as you watch local gossip on a screen.
There’s a resort nearby that maintains ice roads, but you have to pay if you want to drive straight to your ice shanty.
6. Rainy Lake
Rainy lake is located on the Canada-US border and covers around 360 square miles of the surface. Rainy Lake is among the best ice fishing lakes for anglers looking for a place to unwind as they do ice fishing.
Attractions in the Rainy Lake include walleyes, crappies, northern pikes, saugers, muskies, and smallmouth bass. When ice fishing here, use tip-ups to catch pike or jigs and Swedish Pimples if you target walleye.
7. Big Stone Lake
The Big Stone Lake is a massive water body covering over 12,610 acres of surface. The lake is found on the South Dakota/Minnesota border. Ice fishing here is fun as you get a chance to get several giant walleye and perch.
This lake is among the best ice fishing lakes, as winter starts early and ends late. There are numerous restaurants in this area where you can rest and try out different food.
8. Upper Red Lake
This Minnesota ice fishing destination is among the first lakes to freeze. The water here freezes a month earlier than many lakes in the region.
This shallow lake is located in Beltrami County and is only 15 feet deep in most areas. The most common species include the lake sturgeon, walleye, northern pike, brown bullhead, black crappie, and bluegill.
Remember that some sections of this lake are restricted; you can only do ice fishing here if a tribal guide accompanies you.
There are several local resorts where you can stop to refresh before going ice fishing. Some resorts will even rent ice fishing houses where you can spend your day or night while ice fishing.
9. Lake of the Woods
Lake of the Woods the sixth largest inland freshwater lake in the US, thus making it to be among the best ice fishing lakes in Minnesota. The lake is surrounded by over 50 resorts and ice fishing house providers. Here you can rent an ice house or other fishing gear.
The lake is home to thousands of walleye, northern pikes, perch, sauger, lake sturgeon, burbot, and crappie. The pike grows large, and you can get one weighing over 15 pounds.
Check with the local authorities before you go ice fishing here because some parts of the lake are in Canada.
10. Lake Harriet
Lake Harriet is an inner ice fishing destination as it’s located in the middle of Minneapolis. This lake is a perfect fishing spot for newbies who want to start ice fishing.
The lake is small, covering only around 335 acres of surface. Unfortunately, the management here doesn’t allow anglers to use or rent fish houses, ATVs, or snowmobiles. However, you will enjoy ice fishing here since there is plenty of bluegills, walleye, yellow perch, yellow bullhead, largemouth bass, black crappie, white sucker, and muskellunge.
11. Lake Phalen
Lake Phalen is a perfect fishing destination for anglers who enjoy solitary fishing. The lake is strategically located in an urban Twin Cities area of Saint Paul.
Lake Phalen is a large lake in Minnesota that supports numerous fish species, such as the northern pike, walleye, tiger muskies, largemouth bass, crappies, and sunfish.
Equipment and Gear for Ice Fishing in Minnesota
To have a successful ice fishing trip in Minnesota, you must carry the right fishing equipment and gear. Here is a list of essential fishing equipment.
Since you’ll spend most of your time on a frozen lake, it’s essential to wear warm clothes. Also, carry an extra pair of clothes, a blanket, and a waterproof mat.
Ice Auger/Ice Pick
To have the best ice fishing experience, ensure you carry an ice auger. The auger will help you drill holes into the ice effortlessly.
You can always borrow from your fellow anglers or rent from the nearest resort if you don’t have one. Also, ensure you carry simple ice picks for safety purposes.
Not every rod is ideal for ice fishing. Carry a specific rod designed for ice fishing. Also, carry a fine line that can withstand the harsh cold environment.
Remember, the reel or line you bring must be friendly to the target fish type. Some species will require heavy lines, while others will require you to use light lines.
During the ice fishing season, the snow keeps on falling. A slush scoop will help keep your fishing hole clear from ice.
Tip-ups are must-have ice fishing equipment as they help you know when the fish bites the bait. The flags are ideal if you’re targeting muskies and northern pike.
Lures and Baits
Baits and lures come in handy, especially when you’re doing ice fishing. They attract the fish to your fishing line, and every species has its favorite.
The most typical lures and baits include live minnows, Swedish Pimples, and the Rapala Jigging Shad Rap.
You need a fish house since you’ll spend some time on the frozen lake. An ice house will shelter you from the cold, and you can do other things, like cooking, without going outside.
Pliers come in handy, especially when you want to remove the hooks. They can also help you fix your fishing gear or even help you cut the line.
Other ice fishing equipment includes the electric fish finder, thermos, and a portable propane heater. Always check the quality of the ice fishing gear you buy.
Remember to carry fishing rods and lines specifically made for your target ice fish. For example, if your target fish is walleye, carry fishing gear purposely made for catching that type.
Regulations and Restrictions
If your next ice fishing destination is Minnesota, you must have a valid fishing license. The license is issued to people from ages 16 to 89.
A guardian with a valid fishing license should always accompany those below sixteen years. Also, ensure you get a permit for all types of ice houses except for flip-over shelters. However, specific groups in Minnesota don’t have to carry a fishing license. These groups include:
Residents registered with the US Armed Forces.
In patients from the US Veterans Administration hospital.
Residents serving or who have served in active federal service outside the US.
Always ensure you carry the required documents to prove you’re from the abovementioned groups.
Most fishing lakes in Minnesota allow you to set a maximum of two lines. However, those targeting water trout should only place one line. You can use live baits while ice fishing, but the Minnesota department for fishing doesn’t allow you to import live minnows.
Fishing Tips and Techniques
When ice fishing in Minnesota, you must carry the right baits and lures for the targeted fish species. Walleyes and crappies like feeding on live minnows and get attracted by jigs and Swedish pimples. Other bigger fish, like the northern pike, get attracted by tip-ups, soft plastics, spoons, and shiners.
To increase your chances of getting more fish, use a LakeFinder. It will help you locate where you can find your targeted fish species.
Remember that too much noise will scare away the fish, so it’s advisable to drill and set up your fishing gear 30 minutes before you start ice fishing.
Minnesota offers excellent ice fishing lakes that you can try your luck on. Some great lakes for ice fishing include Lake Minnetonka, Rainy Lake, Lake Winnie, Leech Lake, Lake Bemidji, Lake Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Elmo.
To have a successful ice fishing trip in Minnesota, ensure you bring heavy clothes, baits and lures, tip-ups, an ice auger, ice picks, and a good reel, rod, and line. Remember to carry a valid fishing license and adhere to the fishing guidelines of your targeted lake.
Also, ensure you bring the right baits and lures for your target fish. Always ensure you observe your safety first by confirming the weather for that day and checking the ice thickness before going ice fishing.