The first one, Pokegama near Pine City, still had a few ice crystals floating in the whitecaps, but was essentially at ice out. Further up County Road 11, Mud Lake was wide open and by the time I arrived at the Crow’s Nest on Hwy 65, Knife Lake, from what I could see, looked wide open too.
Moving north along Hwy 65 did not offer another peek at any lakes until I arrived at Big Sandy, north of McGregor. The accompanying photo shows Big Sandy still covered with soft, dark ice, but in a state, that is close to ice out. Some of the small, back bays were already open and so were both the Sandy and Mississippi flowages. I think by the end of next weekend, we’ll be looking at lots of open water down there.
On Tuesday, (3-30-21) the weather turned colder again, but not cold enough to re-freeze water that had already opened on some Grand Rapids area lakes. On the Grand Rapids Pokegama, Kings Bay was already wide open and if I had wanted to put the boat in the water and go fishing, I could have done it.
Look at the forecast for this weekend and you’ll why this is all good news panfish anglers. A warm, sunny weekend combined with open water in the back bays of popular crappie and sunfish lakes mean that the stage is set. This may well be the perfect weekend for a first walk to some of the better shoreline panfish spots. If hoofing it to the panfish hole isn’t for you, look around and you will likely find a few places to launch your boat.
I know that it might sound a little farfetched, but there are already folks fishing on open water on some lakes in Minnesota's south-central region.
The accompanying photo provided by Doug Robinson shows a nice fat crappie he caught this week in the metro region. Robinson: “Found 47-1/2-degree water temps and the fish were hungry. It always amazes me how quickly panfish find warmer water in the spring. Started with 100th oz hair jigs and quickly switched to 1-inch plastics. Spring pan fishing has officially begun!”
Today is cold again, so the meltdown is stalled, but this just gives me another day to look around the area before I get too fidgety about getting my boat ready for action.If you’ve thought about catching your first open water panfish, but believed that it was too early, take a drive past your favorite early ice-out lakes. You might find out that some of them are ready for prime time this weekend! — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Ice fishing is all wrapped up on the south end of Lake of the Woods. Now, the focus is on back bays and tributaries where big northern pike move in to spawn. The pike season is open year round on both Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River. Anglers are allowed 3 pike per day, but all fish between 30 and 40 inches must be released, anglers may possess one over 40 inches.
On the lake, there are areas of open water and anglers are out there focusing on catching walleyes. Anglers are allowed a limit of walleyes and saugers on the lake, but catch and release only on Four Mile Bay and the Rainy River through April 14, 2021. A limit of walleyes and saugers is a combined limit of 6 fish with up to 4 being walleyes. Walleyes 19.5 to 28.0 inches must be released with one fish allowed over 28 inches. The walleye season runs through April 14, 2021 and starts up again on May 15, 2021 for the Minnesota Walleye Fishing Opener.
On the Rainy River, five boat ramps are open on the Rainy River and there are 42 miles of open water for fishing. Nelson Park in Birchdale, Frontier, Vidas (near Clementson), Timbermill Park in Baudette and the Wheeler's Point access at the mouth of the river 12 miles north of Baudette are all open.
River fishing has started out strong. Good numbers of walleyes are being caught by some with trophy fish in the mix. A 3/8 to 1/2 ounce jig is working nicely tipped with a minnow or a plastic. Walleye season is catch and release only on Rainy River and Four Mile Bay through April 14th, 2021.
Sturgeon fishing continues to be excellent with big numbers of sturgeon being caught. Sturgeon catch and release season through 4/23/21. Keep season 4/24/21 thru 5/7/21, (45-50", or over 75") Catch and release 5/8/21 thru 5/15/21.
With lower current, a 3 ounce no-roll sinker combined with a sturgeon rig (18" snell of 60 lb test with a 4/0 or 5/0 circle hook) with a glob of crawlers, frozen emerald shiners or both is the ticket. Local bait shops have rigs available.
Up at the NW Angle... Looking ahead to open water, there are various ways to travel to the NW Angle this summer without crossing the border. If you have the right boat and expertise, boating across is an option. There is also the Lake of the Woods Passenger Service (charter boat shuttle to Angle). And finally, Lake Country Air flying service, a float plane service out of Baudette and other locations." — Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"The Rainy River ice has melted and the Wheeler’s Point access is open! It seems like it’s too early yet, but here it is! We’ve been seeing lots of early morning activity at the access lately. We’re hearing reports of lots of BIG Walleye being caught and released. It looks like angers are either anchored and jigging or drifting. The Sturgeon bite is on also, so we look forward to a great spring season. The water level in the river is low so far.
This week’s forecast calls for 64 degrees tomorrow with winds up to 30 MPH and dropping to the high twenties/ low thirties for a couple of days and then climbing back up into the fifties and sixties with sunny to partly cloudy skies toward the weekend.
We have a lot of projects, big and small, going on this spring. The three- bedroom river cabins are getting a facelift with new kitchens and flooring. Lots of furniture is being replaced throughout the resort. We’re doing lots of outdoor work at The Point including tearing down the old green shed for safety reasons and the carport on #2 to make space for a nice outdoor living area. We will also be tearing down the back porch on #1 and will replace it with an outdoor grilling and gathering space. The lodge deck will be outfitted with colorful sun sails so our guests can drink and dine in shady bliss. The new charter boat is here for a total of 10 boats and they are all patiently waiting to be splashed for Walleye Opener May 15th.
We have the following job openings for individuals who are looking for employment: Front Desk • Housekeepers • Cooks • Maintenance
We will have housing available soon for employees who relocate to our area, so if it’s always been your dream to move to Lake of the Woods, call us and talk to us about opportunities to live and work in paradise!
We hope to see everybody this spring and summer! Stay happy and healthy!" — 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
Heading north from the Twin Cities after my mother’s semi-weekly ECG session, the first lake we saw that had more ice than open water was Lake Mille Lakes. That’s right, lakes in the north metro region were either already open, or so close to it, that I’m confident that they’d be wide open today.
Mille Lacs itself, was far from open, but there were areas along shore filled with ducks, geese and swans that took advantage of 50- to 75-yard-wide swaths of open water. Another week, and I will bet we start seeing photos of ice heaving up along some of the shorelines.
As we moved north along US Hwy 169, small lakes in the Aitkin area, Grand Rapids too, were still mostly ice covered. The ice showed evidence of deterioration along shorelines, and there were a few small ponds open too. The shallow bay located north of the bridge at Pokegama was about ¾ open and there were some large open holes on the bridge.
Seeing all that open water put me in the mood to get out in the boat and I will do it soon. But business comes first, so yesterday, I got the 2020 Alaskan all packed up and ready for delivery to its new owners. Today, I’ll drive down to make the delivery and then hurry back home to get the Pro V water-worthy for the summer and then. I should have it ready just in time to watch the air temperatures plummet 31 degrees on Tuesday, 31 degrees on Wednesday .. hmm.
That’s okay, a couple days of wintery weather will give me time to catch up in the office and answer a few of the email questions that stacked up while I was away. After that, we’ll see, my next day on the water depends on what other little surprises life has in store this week; some of them are definitely “due”. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
The boat traffic (headed toward the Rainy River) has started out way slower than normal this spring. I was a little bit confused why because I was hearing about so many accesses open up on the Rainy River. So when Chester asked if I wanted to go I was very happy to go fishing with him and see what was going on.
I was thinking it was odd on the way north how we didn’t have one boat pass us or see any. Then a really big surprise when we turned into the Vidas landing and only a few rigs parked along the road.
The conditions were good the river is a little bit low water is clear for this time of year. We landed around 8.30 and as usual the fishing was a little slow but got good as the sun got higher and warmed the water a bit .
We ended up having a very good trip with over 50 walleye and sauger caught. Many 17 inchers that kinda caught me drooling to let them all go but also some really nice ones as well.
After chatting with many on the river and at the landing we came to the conclusion that the catch and release only has really slowed the traffic down. I have to say it was really peaceful on the river with lots of room and not having a jillion boats roaring by.
So there you have it if you’re wondering as I was. The fishing is good the conditions are great right now." — 1-218-246-8710 Fred's Bait, Deer River, MN
"The Rainy River has opened up past Baudette and should be opening up in front of us today or tomorrow. Our restaurant and bar will be open starting this Friday, March 26 with a limited menu until opener. Forecast shows low-40s into the mid-50s for highs the next week or so, with a small chance of rain/snow mix this weekend. We continue to work on various projects around the property, spring cleaning, repairs and such.
Looking forward to seeing everyone for the Sturgeon season and Walleye opener! Stay happy and healthy!" — 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
"Early-season walleye anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will be able to keep one walleye 21-23 inches long or one longer than 28 inches. Summer will bring catch-and-release walleye fishing, with a mid-season closure, before the potential for a one-fish limit returns in the fall.
“Lower walleye harvest this winter is allowing us to offer some open-water walleye harvest this year,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We’re glad Mille Lacs anglers will have the chance to keep a walleye on opening weekend and Memorial Day weekend — two of the most popular times to fish during the year. We also hope to be able to allow some harvest this fall.”
The one-fish walleye limit will be in place from Saturday, May 15, through Monday, May 31. Walleye fishing will be catch-and-release from Tuesday, June 1, through Wednesday, June 30. A two-week closure — implemented to reduce hooking mortality — will be in place from Thursday, July 1, through Thursday, July 15. Catch-and-release walleye fishing will resume on Friday, July 16, and continue through Wednesday, Sept. 15.
After opening weekend, fishing hours on Mille Lacs Lake will be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for all species. Beginning Saturday, June 5, muskellunge and northern pike anglers using artificial lures or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches can fish after 10 p.m.
The one-fish walleye limit is scheduled to resume Thursday, Sept. 16, through Tuesday, Nov. 30. During the late season, the DNR also will allow anglers to fish from 6 a.m. to midnight.
“Our projections strongly suggest that fall harvest can occur,” Parsons said. “However, predicting fishing pressure, catch rates and weather involves some uncertainty so we want people to recognize that the fall harvest will depend on how much of the state’s 2021 walleye allocation remains as we approach September. As always, we will monitor the factors that determine the state’s walleye take throughout the open water season.”
The state and the eight Chippewa bands that have treaty fishing rights agreed Mille Lacs could sustain a state harvest of up to 87,800 pounds of walleye this year, unchanged from 2020. During the 2020 season, state-licensed anglers took 66,748 pounds and tribal fishing took 33,113 pounds.
This year’s winter walleye harvest was about 16,000 pounds, about half of what it was in 2020. Lower catch rates for anglers, combined with fewer people fishing, caused harvest to return to normal levels after a big spike last year. That drop in walleye take gave the DNR more flexibility to implement a one-fish limit during the early season and plan one for the late season.
Even with the drop in winter harvest, a two-week closure during what’s normally one of the hottest times of the summer remains necessary to protect walleye. As water temperature increases, so does hooking mortality — the tendency for fish to die after being caught and released. Protecting walleye during this vulnerable period can allow for many weeks of harvest during cooler times of the year.
To help avoid incidental catch of walleye during the two-week closure, fishing for any species with certain kinds of bait will be restricted. Anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge can use sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. But anglers targeting other fish may not use live, dead, preserved or parts of minnows, night crawlers, worms, leeches or crayfish.
“Our goal with these regulations is to meet the state’s treaty obligations while also providing the best possible experience for anglers, recognizing that fishing and the anglers it brings are economically important to the Mille Lacs Lake area,” Parsons said.
More information about fishing regulations on Mille Lacs Lake, ongoing DNR management and research, citizen engagement, and Mille Lacs-area recreation opportunities is available on the DNR website."
Outside, blustery north winds combined with snow and a 31-degree air temperature are combined to help me not miss fishing today. On the ice, in a boat or anyplace between, it would not be much fun anyway.
What I do miss today, is what I would typically be doing instead, loading up the truck and heading toward Minneapolis for the Northwest Sportshow. Anticipating catching up with friends and acquaintances, seeing the new gismos and gadgets and chatting with industry experts about everything from fishing trips to training dogs usually offers a clear-cut transition between winter and spring.
With the ice fishing season behind us and a little freer time than usual, I may wind up being among the masses fishing on the Rainy River. Or you might spot me in the driveway polishing up my Pro V or wiring the new Alaskan. Or you might want to throw me some reminders about questions that I didn’t get to this past winter. Or you may just wait to see what I come up with, I’m sure it will be something interesting. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Resorts have pulled all ice fishing shelters off the south end of Lake of the Woods for the season. There was some ice fishing happening over the past weekend, but ice conditions are deteriorating quickly. Big pike and some nice walleyes were caught.
Big pike are setting up adjacent shallow water areas of bays, streams and shorelines setting up to spawn. Soon those open water areas will turn on. The pike season on LOW is open year-round. The limit is 3 pike. Pike between 30 and 40 inches must be released. One pike allowed over 40 inches.
The Rainy River is open and numerous boat ramps are open. Nelson Park in Birchdale, Frontier and Vidas (near Clementson) are all open boat ramps. Timbermill in Baudette will be soon. River fishing has started out strong. Some nice walleyes are being caught and it should only get better as water warms.
Walleye season is catch and release only on Rainy River and Four Mile Bay, catch and release only.
Sturgeon fishing has been excellent with big numbers of sturgeon being caught. The sturgeon catch and release season runs through April 23, 2021. After that, anglers who wish to keep one sturgeon can harvest a fish between 4-24-21 and 5-7-21. Legal fish for harvest are 45 to 50 inches, or one over 75 inches. All sturgeon must be released again between 5-8-21 and 6-30-21.
Up at the Northwest Angle, most of the ice fishing is finished up for the season, but there are some locals still fishing. Most report that they are looking forward to the open water fishing season.
There are various ways to travel to the Northwest Angle without crossing the border. If you have the right boat and expertise, boating across is an option. There is also the Lake of the Woods Passenger Service (charter boat shuttle to Angle). And finally, Lake Country Air flying service, a float plane service out of Baudette and other locations." — Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
It's Thursday afternoon and I'm on may way to the lake, hopefully to catch a meal of sunfish. Before I go, let me throw out a couple of late breaking updates that might influence your fishing plans for the weekend.
Dixon Lake Resort sent an email this morning letting me know that we can no longer access the northwest corner of Winnie. Karen, DLR, "The US Forest Service has closed the road that leads to the Third River Landing. You can no longer get around the gate with 4 wheelers. We had a great ice season. Thank you to all that donated towards the road fund and big thanks for keeping our ice clean. See ya next year out on the ice." — Dixon Lake Resort
Jay Gould Lake, a popular destination for panfish anglers in the Grand Rapids area is now off limits this weekend too. I drove over there this morning to check conditions for a possible walk out with the Hippie Chick later on. The fresh tracks that you see in the accompanying photo show where someone tried not once, but 4 times to find a spot solid enough to make it onto driveble ice. I gathered that the ATV never did gain purchase on solid ice because there was nobody out there and no vehicle parked in the lot either. It's been warm and sunny all day long, so that landing can only be getting worse by the hour.
Most of you probably know already if and where you'll try ice fishing this weekend. But, to the extent that it might help, I'll post late breaking updates about landings, or on-lake ice conditions that would affect your decisions about where to go this weekend. If you run into something that your fellow anglers should be concerned about, drop an email with a few words about your observations. You never know when the favor will be returned!
Bring your cleats and your sunscreen and enjoy your weekend on the ice; it could be the last one for a while! — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
No tour would be complete without stopping at Fred’s Bait in Deer River. So, on Tuesday, I started there and had a talk with Bill Powell. “It has definitely slowed down this week, but there is still some traffic out there. There were a couple of groups in early this morning and a few more have trickled in since then.” Powell said.
My assumption was that most folks would have been headed toward small, walk-in panfish lakes. Powell, “Actually there are still a lot of guys driving out on Winnie. I wouldn’t do it myself and I tell them I don’t think it’s a good idea; but that doesn’t always stop them. Over the weekend, one group drove onto the lake using the Trapper’s Landing Road at the west side. While they were out there, a crack opened near the landing and blocked their exist from the lake. It was a long detour, but they drove east and found a way off at Richard’s Townsite.”
I’d already seen an image of that crack (right) at the west landing, it was posted by Tom from Becker’s resort. Knowing that most folks are not going to hoof it onto Winnie from that landing, I skipped driving over to the west side.
Instead, I drove up the east side and checked Tamarack Bay first. The ice there was better than I expected, and the snow cover was gone altogether, but conditions were not good enough to allow vehicle access to the lake. There were anglers on the ice though and they were using ATVs to get there. They gained access via a user developed trail near the parking area for the Plug Hat Point public landing, which is gated off now. The accompanying image shows that conditions there were dry and smooth, probably slippery too.
Another surprise to me, was hearing that some anglers were still driving vehicles on Cutfoot Sioux. I drove up to the Williams Narrows Campground to check that out and while it may have been true a few days ago, there was no evidence that anyone had driven on the ice on Tuesday. A couple of vehicles parked at the landing had trailers connected to them and their owners used ATVs to access the ice there. The ice itself looked good to me, but, personally I would not drive on using that landing.
A quick stop at Little Cutfoot revealed another group of anglers on the ice. They had all walked out from the public landing near the Little Cutfoot summer homes. The road is a little muddy, but conditions are dry, so the drive in was “above average” for this time of year.
The next leg of my journey took me west across County Rd 35, toward Bowstring Lake. At the north landing, conditions had actually improved since my most recent visit. Last week’s meltdown got rid of all the snow cover and the subsequent cold snap re-froze the standing water at the landing.
There is a moving crack about 50 yards out from the landing, so driving a pickup onto the ice is not a good option. But ATVs could wiggle out and along the shoreline to find solid ice; at least they could do that on Tuesday.
After looking at the north landing, I decided there wasn't much point in checking other landings on Bowstring. I think it is safe to assume that anglers using ATVs are okay for a few more days and they'll be able to wiggle out, no matter which landing they use. Driving pickups, as far as I'm concerned is not an option, especially after reading the next report that arrived by email on Tuesday afternoon.
March 16, 2021 Bob K wrote; "I have a place on Boy Lake, north of Longville. Walking on ice is okay as of today, but a couple of 45 degree days will make it questionable for weekend. The ice really looks spooky!
The ice break up and re- freeze that happened during late fall in some areas is dangerous. I drilled a hole on one spot like this and my auger spun out 3 to 4 ich jagged chunks of ice. Many times in the last couple weeks I held my breath as I watched pickups drive over these areas. I told my brother not to bother driving up for the weekend! Better time spent getting boat ready!" Good Luck, Bob K.
Speaking of getting boats ready brings me back to the beginning of this report. While I was at Fred’s Bait, a couple groups of anglers pulled in towing small boats. They were on their way up to the Rainy River, where anglers have begun accessing open water by pushing boats across the ice at landings. Bill Powell told me that he wasn’t all that surprised; he’d already heard rumors about the river and said that was expecting to hear about anglers who were river bound by later this week.
Obviously, the timeline was moved up a few days. In my experience, word about fishing on the Rainy River travels fast and by this weekend, it’s likely that folks with small boats will be out there in mass.
Do you think Twin Rocks and Gull Rock would be a good spot to look for Walleyes? I'm also looking to do some Northern Pike fishing shallower near the shoreline. Any suggestions to make this trip memorable would be Greatly appreciated, I'm also looking at the Warroad area for Pike? Have you heard anything regarding ice conditions?"
A) Rick, it’s been a couple of weeks since I was at Lake of the Woods, so I called on my friend Nate Altendorf to fill in some gaps in my knowledge about current conditions. He’s been fishing the big lake recently and says that fishing remains good, in fact, he believes it’s improved even more since the last time I was there.
Altendorf; “There are still a lot of fish hanging out in the mud, except now, those marks that appear on your screen are not just lookers, they are biters. Anglers are starting to catch more fish on the reefs too.”
Altendorf described ice conditions as good, but as far as driving vehicles is concerned, believed that Zippel Bay Resort is the only operation still allowing pickup trucks on their roads. A decision that relates in large part to your question about northern pike. Zippel Bay is a well-known destination for big pike and now, a large part of their traffic consists of folks targeting them.
You’re right about Warroad, that too is another prime destination for folks that want to catch the late ice pike run. But right now, any small river or feeder creek that connects to the shoreline can be productive. Northern pike will be moving toward any small river feeder creek to spawn. The instant those waters open and begin to flow, pike will swim into them. In fact, spawning will begin while there is still ice on the main lake.
A lot of folks set tips ups to catch pike, but you can also use “quick strike” rigs on a medium-heavy ice fishing rod. The lures allow anglers to rig large minnows, typically sucker minnows, with one hook toward the nose and another toward the tail. They consist of a flashy spinner blade, some large beads and 2 hooks, some folks use treble hooks, others use a 2 barbed “quick strike” hook made specifically for this purpose.
You mentioned looking for pike in shallow water, but before the creeks and small rivers open, pike will be cruising back and forth along the deeper breaklines. Tullibees are the primary food source for larger pike, so focus your efforts for “pre-spawn” pike in water deep enough to attract the tullibees. In other words, the presence of a small river or creek tips you off about where the pike will eventually wind up, but don’t fish too shallow unless the river water is already flowing; that's when they make their move.
Last weekend was my scheduled ECG Saturday for my mother. On my bi-weekly trip to and from the Twin Cities, I observed a stark contrast in conditions between the north and south. Every lake south of Milaca was dark and looked like ice out could occur at any time. But most everywhere from Mille Lacs north, the ice looked solid and if anything, cold weather has made it better, not worse, since last weekend.
If you want to make one more ice fishing trip up north this weekend, you can definitely do it. I will still advise against driving pickups on the ice, even where it appears to be "safe", there are too many pitfalls out there. I'd be especially cautious in areas where there were a lot of ice fishing shelters parked this winter.
For me, walking will allow access to more than enough lakes in north central Minnesota to keep me busy. But ATVs are at present, a good option for folks who want to travel further. You'd be hard pressed to find enough snow to make a snowball, so snowmobiles are worthless; leave them at home. OH and be sure to wear cleats, the ice is very slippery already and will be even worse this weekend when temperatures rise. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"Most resorts and rental operatos have have pulled their fish houses off of the south end of Lake of the Woods for the season. There are a few resorts located adjacent to better ice conditions and their guests are still on the lake ice fishing.
Big pike are active and staging adjacent to spawning areas. Most fish are being caught on tip ups with live sucker minnows or a dead bait like a tullibee. Most pike angling taking place in 5 to 15 feet of water.
Walleye anglers are finding fish in 15 to 30 feet of water. There is a morning and evening bite in shallower water too, walleyes and saugers during the day in deeper water.
The Rainy River is starting to open! Some small boats pushing over shoreline ice at Nelson Park in Birchdale. The middle of the river is open with the boat ramp still ice covered as of 3-16-21. It may open in coming days.
Safety first. Life preservers, warm weather gear, a knife to cut anchor rope if drifting ice gets caught in rope, and of course common sense. Please have patience for your fellow anglers when the accesses open up. Use slower speed and caution on Hwy 11 near access points. Do not block approaches to fields, etc. when parking.
Looking ahead to open water, there are various ways to travel to the Northwest Angle without crossing the border. If you have the right boat and expertise, boating across is an option. There is also the Lake of the Woods Passenger Service (charter boat shuttle to Angle). And finally, Lake Country Air flying service, a float plane service out of Baudette and other locations.
The majority of ice fishing is finished up at the Angle. Some locals are still fishing but most are looking forward to open water." — Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"Well, we’ve got all of our houses off the ice and put away until winter comes again. It was a great season although it seems like it flew by us faster than ever this year. We’re looking forward to the spring walleye season which ends April 14. We’ll keep a close eye on the progress of the Rainy River and keep you posted, as of yesterday the report was boats were in the water at Franz Jevne.
We plan to open up the bar and grill April 1st with a full menu including pizza, burgers, sandwiches and heartier selections like steaks, fried chicken, and more! We will of course open earlier if the River opens quicker! The restrictions have loosened up a bit more for restaurant seating so hopefully we can keep that moving in the right direction and get back to “normal” soon. Of course we will continue to be diligent about wearing our masks, social distancing and sanitizing processes.
Coming up for the summer charter season we’re excited to tell you we have a brand new boat arriving later this week. We have our usual seasonal transitions and clean up going full force and can’t wait to see everybody again!" — 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
Okay here is the deal, I have a stack of emails from readers and what they all have in common is curiosity about ice fishing conditions for the upcoming weekend. The problem is that the inquiries are about a variety of lakes, ranging from one end of the state to the other; more territory than I can cover by myself.
So, this morning, I'm heading out on a tour of my "home territory", the greater Itasca Region. And while I'm out an about, I'll be checking in with friends that live in areas that I can't get to myself. This is one time that I could use all the extra help I can get. So, if you are driving past a public access on any one of the more popular lakes, swing in, take a look and let me know what you see.
Most folks who ice fish during the early spring already have ideas about where they want to go. So, nobody will ask you to give up your closely guarded secrets, they only need a basic heads up about ice conditions, public accesses, and general trends. If you can help, it will be greatly appreciated! — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
When I saw 6 inches of snow laying on the ground yesterday morning, I though that there might be a snowmobile ride in my future; WRONG! Somebody else had the same idea before me and by the time I got to the lake, there was a sweeping, slushy grey snowmobile track that went out about a ½ mile, 180 degrees and returned to shore. That told me everything I needed to snow about traveling by snowmobile.
I didn’t have opportunity to take a photo of that snowmobile track because I was on a busy road when I spotted it. An alternate photo op came along when I spotted a man ice fishing solo on a Grand Rapids area lake. The accompanying photo does a nice job of illustrating what conditions look like on area lakes right now.
Overnight, temperatures fell into the single digits, it’s 8 degrees outside my office window right now. The cold temperatures will help solidify some ice at some accesses, but the benefits will be short-lived. In fact, it could make matters worse when un-suspecting anglers find what appears to be good ice in the morning. The risk is that they’ll seemingly safely motor out onto the lake, but later, encounter open spots on their return trip once daytime conditions warm the surface.
On Thursday, I saw an example of an alternative scenario. A man had decided to drive his pickup truck to the sunfish hole. He made it about halfway, but then got stuck in the slushy snow. The last I saw of him, he was hoofing it toward shore, to enlist help I’d guess.
There have been several folks emailing with questions about driving on the ice this weekend. With ice getting soft, open water at the ramps and more warm weather on the way, I simply cannot recommend driving anyplace for anybody this weekend.
I know that there are still some folks driving in some areas and that’s fine, for them. But please don’t bother sending examples of where they go or what they do, it won’t change my mind. Instead, get in touch with the folks who you’ve seen driving on the ice and let them advise you about where to go. I’d rather let their lawyer handle the situation with your widow after something goes wrong.
Like I said yesterday, traveling on foot will be the preferred mode of transport for me if the ice fishing season for me, remains open.
Whatever you decide to do, be as safe as possible, wear your Striker Float Suit and do some research before you head out. If you’re thinking about driving on the ice, work directly with a rental operator who has firsthand knowledge about road and ice conditions. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
It’s going to get messy out there. We have about 6 inches of heavy snow on the ground right now and that, combined with standing water at many accesses, is a recipe for slushy, dangerous travel conditions.
As of Wednesday, there were still folks driving light trucks on Winnie and so far, this morning, the ramps that were still open, remain so. I’ll be watching for updates today and post them ASAP.
I drove to a few of the landings on smaller lakes yesterday. From what I saw, driving on them will be out of the question this weekend. At Pokegama, for example, there were still ice castles on the lake last Sunday. At that time, there was already a thin band of open water at the Tioga Landing, and I wondered if they’d all gotten off safely.
When I arrived yesterday, the wheelhouses were gone, but my friend Reed Ylitalo was standing there, checking the conditions for himself. He told me about one group who nearly didn’t make it, breaking through the ice in several spots and having to winch their shelter through shallow water. Luckily, they managed to get their shelter off the ice, but it was not an easy job.
At the Mishawaka landing, there was standing water in the rutted, user developed trail. But for anyone willing to walk out, the ice was still accessible. As the snow melts, slush will surely make for a slow walk, but for the committed, it will still be possible.
Reports of ATVs encountering soft spots and patches of slush are getting more numerous. In the weekly recap of DNR Conservation Officers activities, there were even a couple reports about anglers breaking though with ATVs. I’ve been walking to my fishing spots on the last few trips anyway, but those reports were enough to convince me that hoofing it to the fishing spots will be the best way to finish out the season.
Many sunfish and crappie anglers know that there can be an uptick in the action at this time of the season. In many of those same DNR Conservation Officer reports, a common thread was that panfish action has picked up and not just in one isolated area. Statewide, anglers on many of the better panfish lakes in Minnesota are experiencing particularly good fishing.
A few years back, I asked one of the DNR biologists about the phenomenon and why he thought panfish action improved so much during early spring. It was his view that as the snow melts, runoff from the surface of the ice helps to re-charge oxygen levels in the upper layer of the water column. Fish, he said have a way of finding comfort and they begin moving toward areas that are more richly oxygenated. Their instinct to feed may not change at all, but the simple fact that they are on the move makes it more likely that they will eat along the way.
As you may already know, sunfish are vulnerable now and that means we should be careful about which fish we harvest. Preserving male fish, especially the larger ones, is the best way to ensure that quality size fish will continue to inhabit our favorite lakes.
As you may also know, there will be a new, reduced bag limit of 5 sunfish going into effect on about 100 Minnesota lakes. Laws and regulations are fine and, on those waters, reducing the harvest of larger sunfish will almost certainly improve the size structure of fish that remain. But anglers voluntarily doing “the right thing” can do a lot more than any law ever will.
The best practice for sunfish anglers is to voluntarily release the male (bull) sunfish, especially the larger ones and harvest smaller fish.
If you want to take it a step further, you could follow my example and try to harvest mostly female fish. The accompanying photo helps illustrate the difference between male and female sunfish. The bull, the fish on top, is more brightly colored compared to the 2 female fish below it.
I should have taken a better, closeup photo before I released it, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that the male fish has an indentation on it’s forehead, just above the eyes. As the bulls get larger, that knobby looking forehead becomes more pronounced and makes identification easy. Admittedly, the difference between males and females isn’t always this easy to spot, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it fast. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
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Truthfully, I think I could have driven my truck onto the ice on Monday, maybe even yesterday too. But the weather was so warm, and the melting so fast, that I just didn’t want to risk it. The last thing I needed was to find a huge hole at the landing or worse, hit the one thin spot caused by too much current and poke a hole in the ice with my truck!
On Monday, hoofing it to the sunfish hole was easy, there was about 2 inches of soft, “snow cone” ice on the surface and it was not slippery at all. Tuesday morning was different though, I wish I’d have had cleats on. Colder overnight temperatures solidified the surface enough to make walking slippery and slower. So, for what it’s worth, bring your cleats if you’re fishing this weekend, they will probably come in handy.
Late last week, I’d received a note from Travis Verdegan; “I’ve been out to the lake a couple times over the last week. Access has been good, but like everywhere likely to fade fast. Judging by the amount of traffic, it’s been a popular spot and fishing has been, for the most part, decent.
Lots of people seem to favor hole hoping, but for the most part I’ve done most of my fishing from two holes while waiting for the schools to move through. This may be a fabricated truth in my mind, but it seems like having (a second line) with something extra hanging down been holding the fish in one area longer.”
Verdegan went on to explain that he’d been using his underwater camera to assess the effectiveness of adding the 2nd fishing line and that it appeared to support his theory. I agree, whenever there are panfish in the area, I too try to keep someting in from of them to hold their attention.
In his wrap up, Travis mentioned staying out later in the evening, hoping for a run of crappies to come through after the sunfish bite faded. Verdegan wrote; “It worked! They really started snapping after about 6:30 and the action on my tip down was constant. I left the lake by 7:20 PM with a limit of decent crappies; just in time for lent.”
Some of my experiences this week, paralleled Travis’ observations. On Monday, I fished only in the late afternoon and evening. From 4:00 PM to about 6:00 PM, I caught and released sunfish steadily. But toward the tail end of my trip, crappies began showing up in the mix too. I didn’t stay out as late as he did, but even walking off the lake at 6:30 PM, I had 3 nice crappies in my pail. Who knows, if I had stayed later, I may have caught more?
I recalled a story shared by an acquaintance earlier that day, he’s been catching crappies earlier in the morning, starting as early as 5:00 AM. I wondered what difference it might have made for us, maybe there would have been an early crappie run, followed by sunfish? Maybe I’ll try that one day this week just to find out.
On the lake we fished, there’s a maximum depth of about 22 feet. Typical of most popular panfish lakes, most of the attention is focused on that deeper, mid-lake hole. But during late ice, especially when there is a melt down like this one, I think a lot of fish abandon those holes. In fact, I start on the flat, far away from the deepest water.
On Monday, I fished at 16 feet and never marked a fish, but when I moved into 13 feet, the screen of my Humminbird began lighting up. On Tuesday, the fished moved slightly deeper, 14 to 15 feet became the epicenter of action.
One observation that differed about from the ones offered by Travis was that I thought hole-hopping gave us an advantage. The fish acted “flighty” and it was common to move over a new spot, catch 2 or 3 fish followed by a lull. Moving, even if it was simply between the same holes, we’d already fished made us more productive. Take that advice with a grain of salt and do your own experimentation because it probably changes periodically.
I am not typically too hung up on colors, but on Tuesday color made a difference. The sunfish showed a strong preference for an orange/black combination and it didn’t much matter which lures we used. A black/orange Tungsten Toad worked great until it was snipped off by a northern pike. Then I switched to a Tungsten Fat Boy, same color, same result until that lure was snipped off and I tried on an orange/brown Frostee Jig which worked great too.
Conversely, the fish yawned at bright colors, some of my favorites, got snubbed, favorites like pink, red and white, but especially yellow, it was one of those days when the difference in behavior was noticeable. I guess that’s why having a wide selection is important, you never know when it will be a big deal.
Perch fishing, if the weather doesn’t mess us up, is on the agenda for today. I’m supposed to tag along with some friends who will be fishing up there. There are still folks driving vehicles on Winnie, but I don’t think that’s our plan, ATVs is what they have.
After the stormy weather passes through north central Minnesota tonight, colder overnight temperatures are in the forecast. There’s still enough ice on the lakes for driving, so if the ramps were to freeze back up it could offer folks an extension to the driving season on some of the larger lakes; we’ll have to wait and see about that.
Driving vehicles aside, there is still plenty of ice and lots of lakes with good panfish action going on right now. The weekend forecast, while somewhat cooler than it’s been recently, still calls for comfortable conditions. If you have the time, there will be plenty of opportunity throughout the region. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"On the south end of Lake of the Woods, there is still a lot of ice fishing happening in certain areas. At the same time, operators in other areas are dealing with ice upheavals due to recent temperature fluctuations. For now, the best idea for anglers is to call ahead and get up-to-date guidance from the resort or outfitter you are fishing with. They can advise you about areas that remain accessible and the best modes of travel
Fishing reports are coming in mixed, some folks are catching lots of fish, while others are catching one here, one there. Anglers who do find the best action report that they are doing quite a bit of sorting for keepers and catching an occasional nice slot fish, between 19.5 and 28.0 inches. Also, there were some trophy walleyes, 28 to 33 inches caught this week by lucky anglers.
The most relaible bite has been in water depths of 24 to 32 feet. Lures with some noise such as jigging spoons or small lipless crankbaits with rattles are helpful. Gold, glow, glow red, pink and green solid colors this week. On the deadstick, a colored hook with a live fathead has been effective.
Big pike being caught on tip-ups with a quick strike rig and either live sucker or large dead baitfish in 5 to 15 feet of water.
Morning and evening bites remain the best bet on The Rainy River. Remember, March 1st thru April 14th, 2021 will be catch and release only for walleyes on Four Mile Bay and the Rainy River. As warmer temps and melting happening, use extreme caution on the river. River east of Birchdale showing some open water, spring fishing is around the corner.
Nice walleyes have been caught this week up at the Northwest Angle. Fish have been finicky, so try downsizing presentations and using some noise to attract them and fire them up. Walleyes in 22 to 31 feet of water. Some big pike caught both on tip ups and by walleye anglers. Communicate with your favorite NW Angle resort for specifics. Ice fishing on LOW through March. Remember, a new MN Fishing License required noiw, as the old licenses expired at the end of February." — Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"The weather is the big topic of discussion, which it normally always is for Anglers. We start this week with some warmer weather which will be causing us to strongly monitor the ice conditions. If we really knew how much the forecast would come true, we could know more.
We continue to get a bite with a mix of gold and glow colors, continually working a loud presentation in the water column makes a difference. We have houses from 5-14 miles from Pine Island.
The forecast is showing from teens overnight to highs in the 50’s and sunshine. The sooner we have the cold temps overnight the better.
COVID-19 update: We continue to follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines to do our part in preventing the spread. We are providing disposable tableware for our cabin guests to use during their stays with us. Our fish houses, outhouses, and transportation are sanitized daily. We don’t have any idea when we will be able to return to normal but we sure hope it’s soon. Until then, we will continue to be diligent in our efforts to keep our staff and guests safe and healthy." — 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
For today, there are a couple of fresh updates on the Winnibigoshish access report, so if you're interested in another Winnie perch trip, check that out here >> Lake Winnie Ice Access.
On Monday, I took advantage of the nice weather and went for a walk to try my luck for some panfish. They were biting for me, and I've been hearing good things from readers about their panfish experiences as well. This morning, I'm heading out again, this time with a friend who wants to get in on the action. So, you can expect a full, firsthand panfish report from me on Wednesday morning. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
Q) On March 7, 2021 Mike Nolan wrote; "Please post a photo of what the "Wonder Bread Color" is.
A) Mike, brightly colored polka dots over a white backdrop make up the color commonly called "Wonder Bread". That's because it is reminescent of the original packaging from a loaf of Wonder Bread.
Originating in the early 1920s, Wonder was one of the first pre-sliced, packaged breads to come along. That development led to the popular phrase "the greatest thing since sliced bread".
With dozens of lure brands copying and offering their products in the "Wonder Bread" color, it would appear that lots of anglers agree; "Wonder Bread" is the greatest color to come along since sliced bread. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
On Thursday afternoon, I met my buddy Arne Danielson on Bowstring for a few hours of casual fishing. The perch action was good enough to gather a meal of fish, Arne picked up one crappie too, but I wouldn’t head back up there today expecting to get in on any sort of “hot bite”.
Travel conditions on the ice were good, with only a few inches of soft snow on top of the solid ice, we drove wherever we wanted without running into any detours. The ice was solid, but not much thicker than it was the last time I fished there, in fact I was still able to drill through using my K-Drill without any extension.
The north landing was in good shape when I arrived, but by the time I drove off the lake, the ice at the ramp was showing early signs of stress. The warm sunshine caused a moderate run-off from the parking lot during the afternoon. While the ramp was still useable on Thursday, I expect that there will be significant deterioration this weekend, especially if there’s a lot of vehicle traffic on Saturday.
I imagine that your plans for the weekend are already set. But for those of you who are on the fence about ice fishing this weekend, I am headed for Winnie today and I’ll slap together a last minute report about travel conditions over there.
By all accounts, on ice travel conditions are roughly the same everywhere in north central Minnesota. Checking the landings for yourself will be the only way to know for sure how good induvidual accesses are this weekend. So, if you do find out anything special about your favorite ones, I'll bet that your fellow anglers would appreciate a heads up from you. Enjoy the great weather this weekend and let us know what conditions are like out there. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
"I've been a bass boat owner for the majority of my life. I've restored older fiberglass boats because of my limited budget and I've also been able to save to buy a shiny, 21-foot fiberglass rig that made me feel like a total hotshot.
I got to thinking the other day and for whatever reason, I grew up thinking that you had to have a fiberglass bass boat to be a "real" bass fisherman. It's what I saw on television and in the magazines, so it's really all I knew to be honest.
But man, there's a trend happening in recent years that we can't really ignore much longer. A bunch of anglers, whether they're weekend guys or full-time touring professionals, are flocking to aluminum bass boats. The number of newer tin boats I'm seeing on my local fisheries is absolutely blowing my mind. I've talked to boat dealers and they're having to drive thousands of miles to other states just to ..." Learn More >> The Aluminum Bass Fishing Boat Trend: There Just Might Be Something to It
The weather has been just warm enough to reduce snow cover, but not so warm as to produce a fast melt or heavy run-off. Creeks and small rivers, for the most part, remain frozen. Larger rivers are opening, but water levels are low. All the lakes in north central Minnesota remain frozen and the ice thickness ranges from 18 to 16 inches, depending.
This all adds up to travel conditions looking good for the weekend. There is still plenty of ice and with low snow cover pickup trucks are currently the preferred mode of travel. At Fred’s Bait in Deer River, Bill Powell told me that he thinks folks are driving most everywhere. “There are a few old snow drifts and ice ridges to watch out for, but on most lakes, anglers can get around pretty well. There isn’t much snow left, so finding plowed roads is not an issue.”
On Wednesday, most of the traffic at Fred’s Bait consisted of anglers headed for their favorite perch lakes. Winnie, Leech and Cass get a lot of attention this time of season. There are still folks headed toward Lake of the Woods, traffic going that direction is waning. There are more wheelhouses headed south, toward home, than there are headed north.
Looking at the forecast, it would not be a big surprise if lake accesses begin deteriorating over the weekend. But there isn’t a lot of snow, so even temperatures in the 50s can’t cause a lot of melting. If it stays dry, we might get a little extension to the ice fishing season; let’s hope.
In the meantime, I wound up with a few days of free time, so I’m going to go play on the ice with my friends. I’ll let you know how it goes. — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL
The new regulations lower limits on specific waters as part of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources initiative to protect and improve sunfish sizes. These changes are in response to angler-driven concerns over the declining sizes of sunfish in Minnesota.
“Robust public input and support helped us move forward with the Quality Sunfish Initiative. We had more than 3,700 comments and over 85% of them were in favor of trying to improve sunfish sizes,” said Dave Weitzel, Grand Rapids area fisheries supervisor. “It’s clear Minnesota anglers ..." Read >> New sunfish regulations in effect on nearly 100 waters March 3, 2021
"The deep cold weather from the previous weeks made the water column temperature drop significantly from the top of the lake all the way to the bottom. Then there was a major warm up last week which changed the ice conditions of the area we had been fishing. So, what happened when we warmed up to a 70–80-degree temperature change after a long cold spell? The ice shifted, heaved, cracked and moved. So, we get out the bridges and change locations. Currently we are spread out across 6 miles of good ice and have schools traveling through.
The snow and ice cover on the lake are seeming to make an effect by creating less light and oxygen in the water. We are seeing the bite is now becoming more of an aggressive reaction, instead of feeding bite. The schools are moving around slowly and Anglers are seeing a lot of traffic on their electronics. Fish can go without feeding for a long period of time and current conditions are making it more of a challenge to get them to bite. Mastering the art of making them bite is the key to success. Many times, smaller presentations work better in this environment.
Captain BJ says gold has been a really good color, plain yellow hooks, and jigs with a reflective eye seem to be working well. The larger Walleyes have been coming from 8-10 feet off the bottom, indicating that is the warmest part of the water column. Active jigging is best, change hooks often when it seems as if the Walleye won’t take your current bait.
It looks like the Weathervane will spin again this week with winds starting from the North then coming from the South midweek and back from the North by the end of the week. We show temperatures from -9 and up to the 40’s. Are we in for a roller coaster, or is it just the forecasting? We will see." — 1-800-776-3474 Border View Lodge
"Ice fishing shelters are allowed to remain on the ice through March 31st on Lake of the Woods and the walleye season remains open until April 14th, 2021. That means the ice fishning season is far from over in our neck of the woods. The northern pike season never closes and anglers "in-the-know" are making plans to capitalize on late winter migrations that bring monster pike, like this one, into range. In fact, big pike are already being caught on tip-ups with a quick strike rig and either live sucker or large dead baitfish in 5 to 15 feet of water.
The past week of fishing on the south end of Lake of the woods was a good one, despite a number of temperature changes. A variety of walleyes, saugers, perch, pike, tullibee and eelpout being caught in 29 to 33 feet of water.
Jigging spoons with a glow stick and/or rattles tipped with a piece of minnow for the jigging line. On the deadstick, a colored hook with a live fathead has been effective. Electronics are helpful to show suspended fish. When suspended fish are spotted, reel up quickly before fish swims through. When your lure is 2 feet below the fish, reel up to the fish slowly so you don't spook the fish. The suspended fish have been larger walleyes overall.
On the Rainy River, the morning and evening bite continues to be the best. Remember, March 1st thru April 14th, catch and release only for walleyes on Four Mile Bay and the Rainy River. The snowmobile trail on the river from Baudette to Wheeler's Point to the NW Angle staked and groomed.
Up at the Northwest Angle, with the border closure, there are four ways to travel to the NW Angle without crossing the border. 1. NW Angle Guest Ice Road from south shore up to the Angle. 2. Snowmobile trails across the lake. 3. Lake of the Woods Passenger Service (bombardier). 4. Lake Country Air flying service.
A good number of walleyes caught this week up at the Northwest Angle. Walleyes in 24 to 31 feet of water. Jigging with a lure producing noise with rattles is effective. Tip jigging spoons with minnow head, tail or whole minnow. Experiment until you figure out what the walleyes want. Plain hook or a glow jig with a live minnow on deadstick. Communicate with your favorite NW Angle resort for specifics. Ice fishing on LOW through March. Remember, a new MN Fishing License is required March 1st." — Lake of the Woods Tourism, (800) 382-FISH
"Mercury Marine®, a division of Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC), today introduced the new 7.6 liter V12 600hp Verado® outboard engine. With this launch, Mercury continues to transform the high horsepower outboard market, providing its most powerful and capable outboard, which includes several industry first features for a wide variety of applications.
"With boats continuing to grow bigger and performance expectations continuing to rise, boaters have been asking for a better, more capable high horsepower solution to meet their needs. The V12 Verado outboard is Mercury's answer," said Chris Drees, Mercury Marine president. "Using our advanced engineering and design capabilities, we completely redefined ..." Learn More >> Mercury Marine Introduces the All-New V12 600hp Verado Engine