Minnesota Ice-Fishing Forecast

When it comes to fishing, lakes are cyclical, providing good action for years and then having the bite drop off. These ice-fishing experts will be targeting these waters this winter.

By Noel Vick

Lakes suffer the life cycle of a star, albeit not on as grand or on protracted a scale. Stars - like our sun - are born as clouds of dust and gas collapse into a mass. For a star, the formative years through midlife are good. Then, aging begins. They expand into red giants, then white dwarves and finally withered black dwarves. Poof, it's over.

In ice-fishing, we see fish populations improve, climax, get wiped out by man or nature, and thereafter banished to the "used to be good" list and then abandoned to rekindle. As anglers, we are continuously in pursuit of the here and now, bodies of water that are spiking or at least on the upswing. We fish on rumors and relocate on news.

To help in the process of locating the current hot lakes, we've enlisted the opinions of some of ice-fishing's experts. These guys live for ice-fishing and make a living because of it. Knowing where to drill the next set of holes is part of their trade.

Gull Lake
Without its walleyes, Minnesota would be just another fruited plain. Walleyes are the snapshot in our tourism campaign, and jewels beneath the ice. Selecting legitimate lakes isn't challenging either, but condensing the big list into a short list of just two lakes required deeper thought and greater resources.

When asked to divulge a diamond, Ice Team power stick Karl Kleman stroked his shaven chin, squinted an eye, and uttered, "Gull." His Gull is the Brainerd area's Gull Lake, a nearly 10,000-acre wonder that's better known for water skiers than walleyes. Once winter induces watercraft winterizing, though, the lake is relinquished to ice-anglers and a smattering of snowmobilers.

"Gull has an excellent walleye population," says Kleman, "and a wide assortment of year-classes, too."

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Kleman inaugurates hardwater season on Bowtie Bar, also known as "The Bra." It's a dual-lobed structure that rises at midlake, just southwest of Sandy Point. On average, Kleman engages walleyes on the sheerest slopes in 18 to 20 feet. These depths place him very close to the 40- and 50-foot depths, too.

His next spot is Hole In The Day Bay, which sets up in Gull's southeast corner. Here, Kleman uncovers walleyes in 10 to 12 feet during lowlight and as deep as 50 feet during the day. The key, he says, is finding waterscapes with mingling rocks and cabbage, and access to deep water.

From there, Kleman saunters to A-Frame Bar. The structure, which is easily oriented via an "A" frame cabin, situates to Gull's northwest.

Grassy Point/Dutchman's Bluff is another walleye hotspot and favorite of Kleman's for evening forays; the 14- to 16-foot range comes highly recommended.

Kleman closes with a site known for its daylight biters. "The water around the Government Landing and Gull River Dam is darker, encouraging more daytime action," says Kleman. He focuses on 20 feet of water and moves up and down as needed.

Far as a weapon goes, Kleman gets hit the hardest with a gold Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon tipped with a shiner head.

To learn more about the area, contact the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce at (800) 450-2838 or on the Web at www.explorebrainerdlakes.com.

Cass Lake
The next nomination is a whale of a lake as well. Professional guide Brian Brosdahl invests many hours discovering and mastering walleye lakes. His pets change like unproductive lures, too. And presently, stately Cass Lake is his trustiest walleye producer.

The 15,596-acre lake is a maze of islands, bars, reefs and breaks flooded in clear water. The clarity and breadth of structure is likely what keeps winter traffic in check, too, certainly not a shortage of fish. But it's Cass' complexities that captivate Brosdahl, for he can fish in privacy and catch large numbers of walleyes.

Brosdahl's system is to dissect massive structures and isolate key positions on or near them. Off Stony Point, for example, Brosdahl analyzes the series of bars that fan to the northeast for subtle, often unmapped incongruities. Last winter, he caught fish during twilight stretches in 14 to 18 feet of water. By day, nearby areas of 25- to 35-foot water depths produced.

On Dead Man's Bar to the north, Brosdahl sticks to the west flank and fishes in 12 to 14 feet in the morning and evening, shifting deeper by day.

The Potato Islands present both steep breaklines and great underwater points, the preponderance of which appear off the island's northwest and northeast slopes.

Colossal North Cedar Bar is Brosdahl's next suggestion. By day, he operates in 25 to 35 feet off the shelves and scampers nearer the top toward dusk and at sunup.

Cass' walleyes have a thing for silver, too. To accommodate this craving, Brosdahl jigs a silver Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon or Forage Minnow Spoon, but will swiftly convert to glow-red if metal hues don't suffice.

Find out where to stay and eat by calling the Cass Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 356-8615 or on the Web at www.casslake.com. Bro's Guide Camp (218-665-2217) offers winter guiding and lodging.

Ten Mile Lake
Respect isn't always easy for pike. Many anglers curse their mere existence. Others soak them in Silver Satin and serve 'em up with brew. I don't carry such a wretched opinion about Esox, and neither does On Ice Tour's Chip Leer.

Leer, in fact, makes pike pilgrimages part of every hardwater season. And lately, he's been road-tripping to Hackensack's Ten Mile Lake. The 4,669-acre Cass County lake is a favorite of walleye purists who embrace the challenges presented by clarity, depth and structure unimaginable. These same mechanisms serve the likes of pike, too. Big pike flourish in big water, especially structure- and forage-filled lakes like Ten Mile.

Through the ice, Leer exposes Ten Mile's pike in 8 to 10 feet at first ice and 14 to 18 feet thereafter. Inside those parameters, these tenacious predators track alongside weed edges - mostly cabbage - both inside and outside the bays.

Regarding size structure, Leer says "there are tons of 24- to 28-inchers in Ten Mile, and 30-inch pike are common, too. It's just a great lake for action, but one with super big fish, too. Last winter we iced a 40-incher and saw even bigger ones down the hole."

Seeing is believing. On Ten Mile, Leer sight-fishes for pike, cutting four to six holes in a box and drilling out the connecting pieces to create a "viewing window." Positioned over the portal - camped in his Fish Trap portable shanty for warmth and background darkening - Leer works and watches either a Northland Bionic Bucktail Jig with 4-inch sucker minnow or a Berkley Frenzy Rattl'r, which performs surprisingly well on wintertime pike.

Phone the Hackensack Chamber of Commerce at (800) 297-6932 to learn more about the area, its lodging and other fishing opportunities. They can also be reached on the Web at www.hackensackchamber.com.

Lake Bemidji
They're the "missing link" between game fish and panfish. Their carnivorous side promotes organized assaults on spottail shiners and cannibalistic rituals involving their own young. Equally as often, perch will demonstrate bluegill-like tendencies by suspending, not roving, and feeding on zooplankton.

As far as Brosdahl can tell, Lake Bemidji's perch are pretty much meat eaters, and unexpectedly large as well.

"Bemidji has strong numbers of perch right now," he says. "It's been up and coming for a few years. It's here now. There are loads of 9- to 12-inchers in the system."

They don't get pounded heavily, either. The lack of perch pressure might be due to Bemidji's substantial walleye fame, or possibly the deep-ranging nature of the perch.

"In the early winter," explained Brosdahl, "they hang in 20 to 25 feet, moving as deep as 45 feet by midwinter. Only during last ice do I find numbers of jumbos in less than 20 feet."

One of his finest overall spots is the easiest to locate, too.

"The south and northeast sides of Diamond Point and Diamond Bar can hold a lot of fish, so long as you stick to the breaks," said Brosdahl.

The midlake formation known as "The Rock Pile" is another candidate, as are the northeastern and southern flanks of Cameroon Point, the northeastern lip of Grassy Bar and what's called the "Library Park area."

When the fish are active, Brosdahl uses a gold spoon dressed with the front side of a fathead. If they're not aggressive, he downsizes to a glow-in-the-dark white Northland Bro Bug, his own personal creation.

Round Lake
Brosdahl's second hotspot for perch got shorted when structure was handed out. However, to a perch, that isn't all bad. Round Lake, 2,959 acres located just north of Lake Winnibigoshish, is a sea of flats, rises and bottom content transitions.

Brosdahl considers it a "big-perch lake, too, not a serious numbers giver. Ten- and 11-inch fish are ordinary, and 12-inchers are possible."

Basically, Brosdahl's pattern is as uneventful as the scenery, too.

"You can pretty much setup in 22 to 28 feet all winter long and catch fish," he says. "The southeast and west shores tend to be a bit better, though. Try the midlake humps, too, if nothing's happening on the shoreline sand breaks."

If past results are indicative of future results, pump a glow-red jigging spoon while simultaneously deadsticking with a whole, live shiner minnow. That's what Brosdahl does. And in the process, he usually catches a few bonus walleyes.

The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce can assist with everything. Call them at (800) 458-2223 or on the Web at www.bemidji.org.

Pelican Lake
Bays full of big bluegills are sacred. Giving up said honeyholes isn't wise. However, occasionally, a beast of a lake ripens with huge bluegills and it's OK to tell other people about the hotspot. Here are a couple of lakes worthy of your time, and they are large enough to handle heavy fishing pressure.

Leer offered it up. Brosdahl snatched the ball and ran. Back in the old days when Leer guided on Lake Kabetogama, he would now and again stray over to Pelican Lake to sample its panfishing. It's been a few years, but he remembers the heydays, before, as Brosdahl says, "Pelican had its smile wiped off. It's on the mend, though. It got beaten to a pulp, but the size is coming back."

Located in Orr, nearly 11,000-acre Pelican Lake is customized for building bluegills. It's rather shallow, fertile and weedy as a neglected garden. And at first ice, Brosdahl digs right into the foliage, centering on 8 to 12 feet of water.

The typical blueprint on Pelican, says Brosdahl, is to run and gun across massive weedflats, concentrating on openings and breaks in the greens. And although it's shallow, staining is significant, so Brosdahl operates with a Vexilar flasher.

Saunders Bay is a fine choice. Here, bluegills operate in 8 to 12 feet around Sugar Point. Haslam Point deserves looks, too. Up on the northeast quadrant, Brosdahl works the series of islands and related weedbeds between Oak Point and Orr Island. As a final contender he mentions Strand Island.

That's the shallow pattern.

Pelican yields a deepwater bite as well. By midwinter, bluegills and dashes of crappies will suspend 25 to 35 feet down over the main basin. Usually, though, Brosdahl still finds the thickest concentrations on the edges of the bowl, not in the dead center.

The eastern peripheries of Bald Island and Berns Island are worthwhile, too, as are the western edges of Cope Island and Peterson Island. Again, jig in 25 to 35 feet of water.

Lake Minnewaska
Our good buddy Kleman re-enters the conversation at this juncture. He's sitting on another mighty bluegill producer, and another physical juggernaut, too. Pope County's Lake Minnewaska is the body of water Kleman speaks of. At 7,110 acres, it too can endure some pain, and it does. Fortunately though, Minnewaska maintains both numbers and sizes despite the harvest.

"You need to move around to find better fish," Kleman suggests. "But a good spot can be full of 1/2- and 3/4-pound 'gills."

Like many virtually inexhaustible bluegill waters, Minnewaska isn't overly deep but is highly vegetated. Kleman fishes over 11- to 16-foot deep weedflats. And standing cabbage, he says, is the difference between ho-hum action and running out of bait.

Suggesting specific spot

s is difficult, though, because weed growth varies from year to year. But as a starting gate, Kleman recommends the north end near Glenwood and the Department of Natural Resources landing. True, it's a busy area, but there's enough surface area around to secure privacy.

Kleman fishes heavy, too, saying that the bulkier fish often slink beneath the herd. His favorite offerings are Lindy Fat Boys, Genz Worms and the new Northland Bro Bug.

Call the Glenwood Chamber of Commerce at (800) 304-5666 or visit www.glenwood-starbuck.org for lodging information.

Sand Point Lake
Crappies are a blue-collar "catch a limit for dinner" sort of species, are they not? Not to Ice Team czar Dave Genz. He's always up for an adventure and is even more so when it involves crappes.

Border country is where Genz heads for slab crappies, Grassy Bay on Sand Point Lake to be precise. "It's a snowmobile-type trip," says Genz. You won't find a rental shack or plowed road, but for anglers sledding in from Crane Lake and the Ash River Trail, Grassy Bay presents a bonafide crappie rookery tucked deep within landscapes best associated with lake trout and wolves.

Genz describes Grassy Bay as a long and skinny bay with mesotrophic features, such as sediments, shoreline vegetation and colored water. In its midsection lies a 500-acre or so hole that undulates in the 30-foot range.

According to Genz, its crappies suspend over the trough and willingly feed by daylight. One-pounders are widespread, with bigger specimens strewn in. Legitimate 2-pound-plus crappies are possible.

Contact the Crane Lake Commercial Club/Visitor & Tourism Bureau at (218) 993-2901 for details about the area and its wintertime opportunities (www.visitcranelake.com).

Lake Lizzie
From there, Genz takes us out west near Detroit Lakes to Lake Lizzie. The hulking water is a diverse 4,035-acre fishery, which is as renowned for its walleyes and northern pike as the crappies.

According to Genz, Lizzie's crappies are on the rebound in both quantity and mass. The DNR corroborates his assertions, too. The agency's most recent sampling - 2001 - revealed solid numbers of fish, which ranged from 7 inches to nearly 14 inches in length.

Once on the ice, Genz makes way for the extreme north bay, a moderately deep and fertile niche with a defined weedline. He focuses on the 28- to 30-foot range during daytime hours and creeps nearer to the vegetation by morning and evening. A similar scenario unfolds off the west shore, out from the landing where it dips into the lower 20s.

For local information, call the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce/Tourism Bureau at (800) 542-3992, or on the Web at www.visitdetroitlakes.com.

* * *
That gives you a couple lakes for walleyes, a couple for pike and several for panfish to explore this winter. Enjoy!

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