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Our Top 10 Metro Ice-Fishing Lakes

Our Top 10 Metro Ice-Fishing Lakes

The Twin Cities area offers some terrific ice-fishing options, for everything from walleyes to pike to panfish. Maybe it's time for you to check out these overlooked opportunities. (January 2006)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Ice-anglers who live in the Twin Cities are either going to love or hate the contents of this article.

If you tend to do your ice-fishing on the big waters of the north down to 100 feet, like Upper Red Lake, Mille Lacs, Winnie and Leech, you're going to love what you're about to learn. Those who tend to do their ice-fishing closer to home, however, may just try to buy all copies of this magazine off the newsstands so their favorite hotspots aren't revealed. Why? Because ice-fishing in the metro area is hot, and on most lakes, the fishery is virtually untapped.

"I just don't understand why people go way up north when they have such a great resource right here in the metro," said Josh Stevenson, owner of Blue Ribbon Bait in the east metro on Century Avenue. "I feel blessed to live in an area where the fishing opportunities are so diverse."

The busiest day on a metro lake is an average-to-slow day on the traditional ice-fishing lakes up north. Given the rise in gas prices and the productivity of many metro hotspots, those ice-anglers who fish the Minneapolis-St. Paul area may have a lot more competition this year.

Terry Tuma is an ice-fishing expert who gives numerous seminars on how to catch walleyes, crappies, bluegills and northern pike through the ice. He always talks up the metro area, which he enjoys fishing when he isn't on Mille Lacs.

"There is some tremendous ice-fishing in the metro, and it is beginning to catch on. But it's nothing like what you see elsewhere around the state," said Tuma.


Sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day for walleyes through the ice. But Tuma prefers the early-morning bite because fishing pressure and noise tend to be much lower. Stevenson said anglers who work a typical workday can still get in on some terrific fishing action, thanks to glow jigs and lighted tip-ups.

"You just need to fish a little shallower, and you can get some very good walleye action in shallow water areas adjacent to deep water," he said.

Contacting a local bait shop is a great way to find where the action is and it allows an angler to find a pattern. "Don't just get out there and go to where everybody else happens to be, because the fish in that area are way too pressured and will move out," Tuma said. If you have no other choice, sit on the outskirts of the most-fished areas because fish -- especially walleyes -- tend to hang on the edges.

With that in mind, here are some metro-area hotspots for walleyes, pike, panfish and more.


A scoop of fatheads, a jigging spoon or Jigging Rapala is really all you need to fish on Bald Eagle Lake in Ramsey County.

"Just head out to the south end of Cigar Island where there's a great drop over a hard bottom and prepare to catch a limit in no time," Stevenson said. The action may not always be that hot, but the area adjacent to the island is perfect walleye terrain, and the fishing pressure in the area serves as proof. A nice bar located on the north end is also home to a collection of ice shacks.

Stocked with walleyes every other year, the Department of Natural Resources' east-metro fisheries office said the population has steadily increased since 1987 and is above average. Catches of northern pike 36 to 38 inches used to be common in Bald Eagle, although Stevenson said that bite seems to have slowed. According to the DNR, there are still quality numbers in the 3-pound range, plus a few trophies. Large crappie catches are common, and numerous 2-pound fish come out annually amongst the mass of small to medium ones. The 1998 year-class is very strong, and most crappies fall into the 11-inch mark, thus officially designating them as slabs. "The size is tougher these days, but you can't beat it for a numbers lake," Stevenson said.

Bald Eagle Lake is located north of the city of White Bear Lake. For info, go to


I'm going to get in trouble for including this lake no matter how much information I attribute to Stevenson, because several of my buddies have caught massive walleyes from Lake Owasso in Ramsey County with some regularity. For their sake and mine -- not to mention the health of the fishery -- take along a camera for those monster walleyes and release them.

That said, in the last three to four years, Owasso has really turned on as a hot walleye lake, according to Stevenson. According to the DNR, the average walleye is in the 3-pound range, meaning there are plenty for the dinner table. "There have always been a lot of little ones, but now there are some really big ones, and they all tend to come from the same area of the lake," Stevenson said.

Owasso has a large, shallow saddle in the middle of the lake that is flat and weedy with healthy weeds even into wintertime. The spot to fish is the rockpile in 12 to 15 feet of water opposite the boat launch on the side of the saddle.

A tip-up along the deep weedline is tough to beat for northerns, according to Stevenson. The average for Owasso is some of the best in the metro, and he's caught many pike in the 32- to 36-inch range, including a 38-incher.

Owasso is also a great place for bluegill and crappie lovers who like to catch a mess of them and don't care about size. It's a great family lake because the kids can play with the smaller panfish while the adults tackle the big toothy predators.

For more information, contact Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle at (651) 777-2421 or at


Anglers who like to catch everything should give the St. Croix in Washington County a shot. It is a river, after all, so any species is possible, including catfish, muskies, smallmouths -- and every kind of rough fish imaginable.

"The panfish are huge, the crappie action rivals Red Lake, there are tons of walleyes, and you have a good chance of catching a big pike or a stray sauger through the ice," Stevenson said. Backing his comparison to crappie fishing on Upper Red, Stevenson said the St. Croix yields a ton of 14-inchers every year.

The key to fishing the St. Croix is to drive to Bayport, turn off of Highw

ay 95 and walk onto Anderson Window Bay. Under the power lines on the 40-foot hole is where to be, although Stevenson said the best fishing is on the edges of the angling group. This area is downstream from the warmwater discharge from the power plant, so anglers need to pay attention to where the ice is safe and where it's thin.

The pinched-off head of a fathead tipped on a Jigging Rapala is a great rig in this area, both for crappies and walleyes.

For more on the St. Croix River Valley, visit or call the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce at (651) 439-4001.


The more "urban" a lake tends to be, the better the fishing is -- mainly because nobody goes there. Lake Phalen in Ramsey County is a prime example. This clear, deep lake is jammed with walleyes. Phalen is just as much a sleeper in the wintertime as it is in the summer.

"People just don't fish it, and those words should be magic to a fisherman's ears," Stevenson said. Similar to Owasso, Phalen is a long lake with a saddle in the middle separating the lake into two basins, but serving as a focal point for the walleyes. "Fish both edges of that saddle and you'll catch a lot of walleyes of different sizes," Stevenson added.

The more "urban" a lake tends to be, the better the fishing is -- mainly because nobody goes there. Lake Phalen in Ramsey County is a prime example. This clear, deep lake is jammed with walleyes. Phalen is just as much a sleeper in the wintertime as it is in the summer.

Stevenson said the walleye action is so hot that anglers really won't go after anything else. Perhaps he was protecting the fact that he also likes the pike fishing, and he wanted to keep it a secret that in many of the walleyes holes, the crappies won't stay off your hook. "They all seem to come on the steep sides of that saddle in 25 to 30 feet, with minnows being the most productive," he added.

The beach on the south end just off of Phalen Drive also is a good location with easy access. For more information, you can contact the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce at or (651) 223-5000.


When Terry Tuma fishes on Scott County's Spring Lake near Prior Lake, he knows that he's going to have to work for the walleyes, but if he finds the right pattern, he's going to catch a mess of them. The walleyes are stocked by the DNR every other year, and a very strong 1999 year-class is now reaching respectable sizes.

The lake is also very good for bluegills and crappies, and the DNR fisheries' west-metro office reports that the crappie population is one of the best in the metro. Tuma said northern pike fishing can be good, though the size is not always the best. The flats are good for pike and bluegills during the early ice season, and the big bays where green weeds can still be found are good later on.

Spring Lake's water is rather murky. The walleyes tend to hold on the breaklines and deep-water points. Crappies are often found roaming the entire basin and move around a lot. "Fish your typical structures and go deep, because very few anglers fish for them out there," Tuma said.

For more information, contact the Prior Lake Chamber of Commerce at or (952) 440-1000.


Tuma gives Prior Lake a rating of "good" for walleyes and "excellent" for crappies. He advises panfishers to examine the deeper water, as in 25 feet deep, rather than shallow.

Panfish tend to relate to the deep breaklines and so do the walleyes. Tuma said jigging spoons with a minnow head attached are great weapons for walleyes on Prior, both in the Upper and Lower lakes. According to the west-metro DNR fisheries office, Prior has a high abundance of bluegills, though they are all very small.

Crappie netting studies reveal an excellent population that is well represented by numerous year-classes, thus backing up Tuma's excellent rating. Many of these fish are 4 to 6 years old and will be quickly entering the size of slab status.

Pike fishing is best when you use a tip-up with a shiner dropped down along the weedline. Tuma said to stay away from sucker minnows and stick with the shiners, because they tend to be more productive. There are some big pike in Prior.

For more information, contact the Prior Lake Chamber of Commerce at or (952) 440-1000.


Lake Harriet is one of those inner-city metro lakes that see very little pressure in the summer and winter, even though it has been a well-known quality fishery for several decades. However, more and more portable fish houses seem to be set up on the western shoreline each winter.

Walleye stocking is done by the DNR annually, and the majority of the fish are currently 5 years old or younger, making for some high-quality eating and the potential for a decent fish. Northern pike populations are also low, but the average size is considerable.

The best reason to fish Harriet is for the crappies, which are experiencing some of their highest numbers ever. The majority of these fish come from the 2000 class, according to the DNR, and should be of a size desirable to anglers.

If Harriet isn't where the action is, move a few blocks north to Lake Calhoun or follow the low-flying planes to Lake Nokomis a few miles east of Harriet. Nokomis has quality walleyes -- including catches in the 6- to 8-pound range -- and numerous small- to medium-sized crappies.

For more, visit the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce at, or you can call (612) 370-9100.


The recreational nature of Lake Minnetonka tends to last well into the winter, but anglers in the know don't let that faze them. Greg Melstrom owns Minnetonka Outdoors on Highway 7 and has ice-fished 'Tonka for a long time.

"The walleye action is fast, but it usually seems to last for only 45 minutes each day," Melstrom said. Ice-anglers new to 'Tonka should fish whenever they can, but the regulars follow the same pattern. "The guys come by here just before 4 p.m. so they can be on the water and be quiet by 4:30. The action begins about then and turns off around 6 p.m."

Winter walleyes are found in the same areas as they were in the summer, only a bit deeper off the main "lakes," humps and points. Depths of 30 feet are not unusual, though walleyes can be found shallower. Move up to the weedline. and the p

ike action is hot and heavy, with some quality fish amongst all the hammerhandles.

Minnetonka is a series of "lakes" or bays with tons of points that can hold unsafe ice conditions even in the coldest winter weather. An area just south of Spirit Island looks ideal on a map, but is notoriously dangerous. Melstrom said it's best to check in with a local bait shop for the latest ice conditions before exploring.

Some of Melstrom's favorite spots include the south side of Gale Island and "boathouse reef" in Excelsior Bay during the early season. This is also a good area for bluegills and crappies. The point on the northeast side of Big Island is a multi-species hotspot. "You can catch nice pike and panfish there during the day, and then wait around for the crappie and walleye bite to hit at night," he said.

In Gray's Bay, the area straight out from the old boat access is good for crappies and bluegills. The ice in Gray's is usually very solid -- as long as anglers stay away from the channel that goes under the bridge. "Hit the first deep edge around 15 feet and you have a good area that is rarely pressured as much as those other spots," Melstrom said.

For more information, contact Minnetonka Outdoors at (952) 470-8800 or at


This is one of those lakes mentioned by everybody who fishes the west-metro area, including Tuma, Melstrom and the folks at Mase's In-Towne Marina. In-Towne puts most of the permanent houses on the lake and rents them out.

Growing up, I spent numerous weekends on the Waconia ice in the permanent fish house my family kept on the lake. We usually fished Wagner's Bay just off of Pillsbury Reef. The walleye and crappie action was consistent, and even though we sporadically moved it to other places on the lake, we always returned there. Not to say that the midlake reefs shouldn't be fished. These areas are terrific walleyes hotspots throughout the season, and also hold tremendous crappie and pike potential.

Some of Melstrom's favorite spots include the south side of Gale Island and "boathouse reef" in Excelsior Bay during the early season. This is also a good area for bluegills and crappies. The point on the northeast side of Big Island is a multi-species hotspot. "You can catch nice pike and panfish there during the day, and then wait around for the crappie and walleye bite to hit at night," he said.

This is one lake where the run-and-gun is not the best technique, Melstrom advised. "Waconia is almost like a mini-Mille Lacs with all the midlake structure and sandy bottom. The fish tend to roam the entire basin, and if you sit in one place, they'll come to you eventually," he said.

Waconia is also known for producing a high-quality crappie bite throughout the wintertime, though it tends to come in waves. "I know people who used to go to Mille Lacs for crappies who now go to Waconia because it's closer and the fishing is better," Tuma said.

For more information, contact Mase's In-Towne Marina at (952) 442-2096 or visit its Web site at


Rather than ruin another excellent fishing hole for metro ice-anglers, this last one is reserved for all those other lakes that provide magnificent fishing, but are up to individual anglers to discover. Isolating only 10 lakes is tough with so many to choose from. For each lake mentioned here, my sources told me about at least two others "off the record." With so many people around, metro anglers tend to keep quiet about their most productive honeyholes. The best thing to do is check out the lake finder on the DNR's Web site or one of the metro fishing guides. Check fishing reports online, in the newspaper and at the local bait shop.

A lot of lakes in the metro have been stocked with walleyes for quite some time, though they are fished by only a half-dozen anglers who are tuned into the action. Chances are, if the lake has been stocked with walleyes for more than three years, it has quite a broad mix of fish in both numbers and sizes. Lakes surrounded by softball fields, city parks and folks engaged in every outdoor activity except fishing tend to be the best because nobody knows about them -- at least not yet.

There are a lot of fishing reports out there along with Web sites featuring regular updates of the hottest ice-fishing action. Search on, but a very reliable one is

If you live in the metro area, what's your excuse? If you don't live there, head to the big city and give the ice-fishing a try. It may really surprise you.

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