If Brian “Bro” Brosdahl had his druthers he’d be on the ice guiding or fun fishing every day of the winter. But being one of the country’s most knowledgeable and well-liked ice-fishing experts has its drawbacks. Brosdahl spends most of the winter traveling from town to town across the Midwest putting on demonstrations and giving talks on how to catch more fish through the ice instead of catching them himself. Traveling across the country for three months is one of the rewards and perils of notoriety and popularity.
One thing Brosdahl admitted is that when he does get a chance to go ice-fishing in Minnesota there is certainly no shortage of choices in the land of 10,000 lakes. It’s mainly just a question of what you want to catch and how far you want to drive.
Following are some of Brosdahl’s favorite ice-fishing destinations regardless of the specie you’re after.
Lake Of The Woods and Upper Red Lake
When I asked Bro about big-pike destinations he didn’t hesitate. “You know Lake of the Woods and Red Lake are two unbeatable destinations for pike,” said Bro. “They kick out 40-inchers on a regular basis and there are very few places that produce pike like that. LOW has a slot limit over 40 inches and there are a lot of pike under 40 inches.”
Of course, Lake of the Woods is a huge body of water and you’re best off hiring a guide if you’ve never fished there before. Contacting the Lake of the Woods CVB (http://lakeofthewoodsmn.com) can put you in contact with places that offer lodging, shanty rental and guide services. The visitors guide has all kinds of listing for businesses that cater to ice fishermen.
Ice fishing on Lake of the Woods may not be like the ice fishing you’re use to. Many resorts have well-maintained, flagged ice roads to the fishing grounds where you can drive your own vehicle or use a shuttle to get there. Many of the heated ice- houses are more like small condos and include sleeper houses where you never have to quit fishing. Ice fishing is definitely a way of life at Lake of the Woods. And while walleye and sauger are the main attractions, trophy northern pike get plenty of attention. Few lakes hold the number of 30- to 40-inch pike that Lake of the Woods does.
Pike cruise the skinny water on first ice in shallow bays, like Muskog and Zippel Bay, off Morris Point as well as off Rocky and Long points on the South Shore and near the mouth of the Rainey River. The area from Warroad to Swift Ditch to Willow Creek is good also. The more adventurous anglers can make the trip north to the islands off the Northwest Angle. Opportunities for giant northerns abound near the islands, like Oak Island.
“Upper Red Lake is mainly a walleye destination,” said Bro, “but a lot of guys that end up going there hook some giant pike while targeting walleyes.” 48,00 acres of the lake is open to anglers. The rest belongs to the Red Lake Indian Reservation, but there are plenty of out-sized pike cruising under the ice.
“Upper Red Lake is a shallow, flat basin,” said Bro. “The best tactic is to spot a bunch of tip-ups with suckers on them.” Brosdahl encouraged anglers to use thick line when fishing tip-ups because it’s easier to handle and hold on to, especially when temperatures are below zero. Brosdahl advises using quick-strike rigs or circle hooks for the pike to facilitate easy release. “Make sure you have some kind of cutting tool or needle-nosed pliers if you’re fishing for pike,” advised Bro. “Use care when releasing pike. Cut off the treble and get the fish back in the water quickly before their eyes freeze.”
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Brosdahl said that big suckers, tulibee and smelt will all catch big gators. “If you’re using live suckers, be sure to cut off the bottom of the tail. That will cause the sucker to struggle and attract pike. If you’re using dead baits, make sure that they hang horizontal.”
Most of the big pike will be found fairly shallow. “About 10 feet is a good depth,” offered Brosdahl. “Cover the water along the first shoreline break and stay aware from crowds.” Brosdahl said prime pike venues on Upper Red Lake include off the Tamarack River, 4-Mile Bay and Rocky Point.
For more information contact Explore Minnesota at http://www.exploreminnesota.com/things-to-do/3882/red-lake-wma/.
“Everyone knows that Leech Lake is a walleye Mecca,” said Brosdahl. “It is a phenomenal walleye fishery, but it’s not fished as much during the winter. In fact, it can be kind of quiet then. There are features that never get touched all winter and there’s a generous slot limit for fish under 20 inches with a limit of four.”
“ A lot of guys go right out in Walker Bay where we have our fish houses,” said Avery Mann of Shriver’s Bait Company in Walker, MN. “ There are some humps there in 20 to 30 feet of water that the walleyes relate to. Other guys will go off Erickson Landing or the city marina. You can find walleyes just about anywhere along the shoreline break. It can be good off Sand Point. too. Guys do well in Sucker Bay on the northeast part of the lake in 10 feet of water.” The water can get as deep as 150 feet in Walker Bay. For tackle, maps and live bait contact Shriver’s Bait Company in Walker, MN at shriversbait.com or call 218-547-2250.
At 111,527 acres, Leech Lake is the third largest lake contained entirely in the state of Minnesota and the majority of it has the potential to produce good walleyes. That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to hire a guide. A guide that’s on the water every day can put you on locations that are hot. The myriad of humps and reefs between Whipholt and Pelican Island is a good starting point. Go armed with jigging spoons, tip-ups and some lively shiner minnows.
St. Louis River
The St. Louis River near Duluth is not your typical Minnesota winter walleye water, except for the fact that it produces big fish. “The St. Louis River is a great place for trophy-sized walleye,” advised Brosdahl. “It’s connected to Lake Superior so you need to use caution when fishing it, but when there’s good ice you’ll see shanty towns on the river.” The quarry, said Brosdahl, are jumbo ‘eyes. “You’ll see a lot of fish in the 25- to 30-inch range. They’re not easy to catch though. The water is clear and the fish a really spooky. You need to find subtle structure that concentrates the fish.”
“The fishing depends on ice conditions,” offered Johnny Chalstrom of Chalstrom’s Bait & Tackle (281-726-0094; chalstroms.com) in Duluth. “Last year there were lots of people fishing right in Duluth Park Point.” he said, and in what Chalstrom called “the border water.” Chalstrom said anglers routinely take walleyes in the 9- to 10-pound range that will stretch 29 to 30 inches right next to the shipping channel in 30 feet of water all the way in to 8 to 11 feet depending on river conditions. “You’ll see an up-tick in activity if we get any kind of run-off that clouds up the water a little bit when spring approaches.” If we have a winter anything close to last year, look for the St Louis River to give up some out-sized walleyes this hard-water season.
“Winnibigoshish is on the map again,” exclaimed Brosdahl. “It was a perch Mecca for a long time and pretty hard to beat, but the perch got small. But now, they’ve made a big comeback.” At 65,000 acres, perch roam far and wide all over Winnie, but where ice anglers use to concentrate on deep water for perch, more anglers are discovering the biggest fish can be found in the shallows. “You’re going to find some of the biggest perch using the shoreline structure and bars kind of like walleyes,” offered Bro. “The perch are big again, too. You’ll find most of the jumbos to be anywhere from 10-1/2 to 11 inches and 13 inch slabs are not uncommon.” The limit is 20 fish.
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Brosdahl said the Winnie perch like spoons. “The perch jump all over jigging spoons like the 1/8-ounce Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon in the day-glow colors with plastics. Very rarely do I use live bait there anymore. Plastics, like the Northland Impulse bloodworms do really well. If the perch get finicky, I might throw on a Northland Forage Minnow and tip it with some maggots, but 90% of the time I’m going to have a red blood worm on.” Brosdahl said the best depths are often between 10 and 20 feet.
Resorts and lodges that cater to ice anglers ring Lake Winnie. Brosdahl said that Nodak Lodge near Bena, MN is a great base of operations. They rent fish houses, have places to stay and cater to winter fishermen. Transportation is important on a big body of water like Winnie. Places like Nodak Lodge can get you out on the ice safely and avoid drifts and pressure ridges that make traveling on the ice hazardous. Contact Nodak Lodge at (218) 665-2226; (800) 752-2758; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.nodaklodge.com. You can get more information on amenities near Lake Winnie at http://lakewinnie.net/.
While the main attraction on Winnie is perch, there are other species available. There are numerous bays and coves that harbor winter crappies and bluegills. Last winter, a trip to the area known as Cut Foot Sioux produced some great crappie action in early March. The season for walleye and pike closes at the end of February, so MN ice anglers have several months to target panfish before the open-water season comes in.
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We found the specks in about 34 feet of water and suspended just off bottom, which is somewhat unusual for crappies. Finding them would have been difficult with out a LCG or flasher. Because they were fairly deep, tungsten jigs helped get baits down to them quickly. Even thought crappies are minnow feeders, when given the chance they will key in on zooplankton. A couple spikes pinned to the tungsten jigs produced about 30 crappies for our group that ranged from 10 to 13 inches.
Lake Winniebigoshish is not far from Grand Rapids, MN. Grand Rapids has all the amenities a visiting angler could want. Forest Lake (218- 326-3423) on Highway 2 West is a great base of operations. Other lodging and restaurants abound in Grand Rapids. Contact the Grand Rapids CVB at 800-355-9740 or on-line at www.visitgrandrapids.com.
“Lake Bemidji is a sleeper for perch,” claimed Brosdahl. “The perch are not as pressured as the walleye and you can catch some pretty respectable perch that will average 11 inches up to about 12 inches.”
Brosdahl advised heading out of the Northwoods access or Library Park, but admitted that positioning near any kind of break or structure is likely to produce a bucket of perch on Bemidji. Early in the season, Brosdahl said to target the 14 to 18 foot depths and then as winter progresses move deeper to 22 to 28 feet. “Finding healthy weeds is always good,” advised Brosdahl. He said perch will be shallower if green weeds are present.
Rigging for Bemidji perch is fairly simple. “A colored hook and a flathead minnow usually does the trick,.” said Brosdahl. “If the perch get finicky a small Rattling Buckshot spoon and a minnow head will turn the jumbos on.”
9,418-acre Gull Lake near Brainerd is known for its walleye and bass, but it’s a top producer for winter bluegills. “Gull Lake is one of my “sneak around places”, admitted Brosdahl. “I love the lake. It has very good numbers of eatin-sized bluegills. Just about any place you can find main-lake weed beds you’ll find bluegills.” Brosdahl said that you’ll sometimes find the bluegills as deep as 22 to 28 feet, but there’s always a shallow bite somewhere on the lake. Gill Getters or Bro Bugs and wax worms is all you need for bait. For bait, tackle and information contact S&W Bait in Brainerd at 218-829-7010 or on-line at http://sandwbait.com/.
“What you’ll find is that central Minnesota lakes will have the best numbers of bluegills and northern Minnesota lakes will have bigger, but fewer bluegills.” More seems to always win out.