ice fish

From mid-December through mid-February, Minnesota’s many lakes are peppered with hardwater anglers, coming to take advantage of walleye, northern pike and other fish populations. Ice fishing is one of Minnesota’s top winter outdoors activities, and with more than 11,800 lakes, Minnesota is brimming with auger-ready places. Of the state’s long list of ice fishing destinations, some of Minnesota’s lakes are the most popular winter hot spots for the sport and are surrounded by resorts, ice house rentals and tour guides. Anglers must heed the fishing regulations provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — some regulations are lake-specific.

Upper Red Lake

Red Lake, comprised of its “Upper” and “Lower” region, is the largest lake within Minnesota’s borders, spanning more than 288,000 acres. Located in northern Minnesota’s Beltrami County, Upper Red Lake is pinched in a narrow region that divides it from its Lower Red Lake counterpart. According to the Upper Red Lake Area Association, Upper Red Lake offers the best, world class-caliber walleye fishing in Minnesota. Many lake access points are located on the lake’s eastern shore, off State Highway 72. This lake is popular for walleye, northern pike and crappie fishing.

Mille Lacs

North of Minnesota’s capital of St. Paul is Mille Lacs Lake, the state’s second largest lake spanning Mille Lacs, Aitkin and Crow Wing counties. Covering more than 132,000 acres, Mille Lacs is a popular tourist destination surrounded by fishing resorts and tour companies. The lake’s best ice fishing areas are spread in both the southern and northern ends. Mille Lacs features a multispecies abundance of walleye, rock bass, northern pike, jumbo perch, muskie, small mouth bass and tullibee. The lake offers 74 miles of shoreline and plenty of access points on all sides.

Lake Vermilion

Spanning more than 40,500 acres in St. Louis County, Lake Vermilion is a famous tourist destination because of its majestic scenery (1,200 miles of shoreline encompassing 365 islands) and fishing opportunities. Lake Vermilion offers anglers the chance to catch large varietals of muskie, northern pike, crappie, perch, small mouth bass and bluegill. The Lake Vermilion official website ( offers specific fishing tables for each month, including peak activity times and daily hours for the best ice fishing during winter months.

Gull Lake

Every year during January, North America’s largest ice fishing event, the Ice Fishing Extravaganza, is held at Gull Lake, where hardwater anglers from near and far gather to compete for the largest catch. With an area of at 9,418 acres, Gull Lake is the largest and most popular fishery in the Brainerd Lake Region. Ice fishing tour guides, ice house rentals and ice fishing equipment are abundant in Gull Lake’s surrounding area, in the nearest towns of Nisswa and Brainerd. The lake’s diverse aquatic flora supports healthy fish populations. This, and the lake’s good water quality, sustains large populations of walleye, northern pike and bluegill, as well as largemouth bass, rock bass and fishing

Lake of the Woods

According to the Lake of the Woods Tourism website, Lake of the Woods is recognized as the walleye capital of the world, and Minnesota Lakes website cites the lake as one of the most scenic in the country, with more than 65,000 miles of shoreline and more than 14,000 islands. Shared by the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, Lake of the Woods spans more than 950,000 acres and specializes in walleye, northern pike, sauger, muskie, rock bass, largemouth bass, lake trout and sturgeon. One of Minnesota’s top ice fishing destinations, Lake of the Woods official tourism website suggests that the best ice fishing is done in the lake’s frozen bays and shoreline areas. More than 45 resorts offer all-inclusive ice fishing tours, and winter months see 1,500 to 3,000 ice houses set up on the lake daily.

So get out there, catch some fish!

By Isobel Washington, Demand Media

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