From Big Stone Lake to the St. Croix River from west to east, and from Lake of the Woods to the Fairmont Chain from north to south, there are thousands of lakes, rivers and reservoirs for Minnesota anglers to wet a line. The following options are but a few of the many choices where abundant populations of fish await those who relish the feeling when a fish takes the bait, bends the rod, and ultimately ends up caught. Here’s a look at our top spots for Minnesota fishing in 2012.
Lake Irving Walleyes
Ice-fishing is in full swing and anglers are pounding holes not only in the ice with their augers, but they’re also pounding holes in the bottom with their lures as they search for that elusive walleye. It’s best to pick a lake that has a high population of these fish, and with a surface area that is manageable. Lake Irving fits the criteria well.
Lake Irving’s inlet is the Mississippi River and the outlet dumps into Lake Bemidji, another well-known walleye factory. The beauty of Irving is that its small size (600 acres) allows it to freeze fast, which is a boon to early-ice anglers.
With a maximum depth of 20 feet, anglers will want to focus on the deeper water around one of the four humps. Expect some company in the narrow trough between the hump on the north side straight out from the boat landing and the hump in the center of the lake. That is a proven winter walleye haven.
The successful early-ice angler on Irving will be the one with an aggressive style. It pays to drill a lot of holes and work them fast and furiously with a lure that creates a reaction bite, one like the Chubby Darter or the Lindy Darter. Those lures do not require live bait and are perfect for that hit-and-run approach.
If the walleyes seem to prefer a finesse approach, take a large Genz Worm and thread about 8 to 10 maggots on the hook and twitch it right in front of their noses. That’s a trick perfected by the “Godfather of Ice-fishing,” Dave Genz, and works wonders on finicky walleyes.
Island Lake Panfish
Panfish become a coveted target as the season progresses; the goal is to find a lake where big ones reside. Island Lake is a great option for catching big bluegills.
With a well-developed deep weed edge, the lake’s anglers should focus on the rim of that foliage. That’s where the bigger bluegills sit and wait for an easy meal.
Island Lake is also a good candidate for the underwater camera. Clear water means you can watch the big sunfish swim up to the lure and then either take it or ignore it. If they ignore the lure, it is time to try something different.
Many anglers consider those tiny ice lures when chasing panfish, but the big bluegills in Island Lake don’t seem at all shy about hitting a half-dozen maggots threaded onto a treble hook on a 1/4-ounce jigging spoon.
The goal of the angler on Pine Lake is to find the hefty two-to-a-pound bluegills — and they are there to be found. If the fish you are catching are small, then keep up the search until you strike bigger fish.
Maud Lake Crappies
In March crappies start migrating to the deep-water haunts near the mouths of bays where they will spawn when the right time comes. In Maud Lake the deep holes where they’ve been all winter are those spots, so the crappies stay put and are easy to pattern on this lake when many other bodies of water are in that tough transitional period.
The holes are on the south end of the 550-acre basin, but don’t rule out the inside turns on the weaving bottom contour. These cuts in the breakline are productive because fishing pressure in these locations is marginal compared to the holes.
There is no secret to catching Maud Lake crappies. Just send down a tiny teardrop jig with a minnow attached. If the crappies don’t seem to want that offering, it might not be because it’s not the right bait; it might just not be the right time. As is typical of crappie fishing on the ice, the low-light periods are always the most productive, and on Maud, even the dark of night tends to be the best time to target them. Keep the lure suspended above their heads and make the fish come to the bait.
Mississippi River Walleyes
In April the urge to spawn is driving walleyes upstream to the dam and into the tributaries along the stretch of Pool Four that runs through Red Wing. Anglers who have been walking on hard water for the past few months take to this part of the river in droves in their boats to get in a little open-water walleye fishing before the season opens on inland lakes. Those who are familiar with fishing current are highly rewarded.
The first inclination is to head right to the dam where walleyes get stopped in their migration and concentrate in numbers where they’re easily targeted with a properly placed jig and minnow. This is a good idea if you don’t mind the crowds.
Keep in mind that walleyes don’t all head upstream at the same time and they don’t all end up at the dam. There will be concentrations of fish at river mouths, on rubble shorelines below current breaks, and in channel dips.
Take lots of jigs. This stretch of the Mississippi is notorious for eating the lead-surrounded hooks, and so you’ll go through plenty of them. Also toss a bag of sand and salt into the back of your tow vehicle. That’s in case the boat landing gets iced up should temperatures drop.
Check out page two for Best Bets for Minnesota Fishing for May, June, July and August