Select a Lake
One of the most helpful tools for learning more about the lake you plan to ice fish, or for finding a lake on which to ice fish, is located on the website of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (see Resources). The "Lake Finder" function allows anglers to see results of fish population surveys and to read about some of the physical characteristics, like depth and size, of many of the lakes in the state.
The Right Stuff
Once there is ice on the lakes, fishermen have to use different equipment than they used when the water was open. Most ice fishing rods are between two and three feet long, and the reels attached to the rods are similarly smaller than those used for open-water fishing. Crappies and sunfish are popular ice fishing targets, and anglers who pursue them use 2- to 4-pound test fishing line and a flexible rod. Anglers who target larger species like walleyes and northern pike should select 6- to 8-pound line and a stouter rod and reel. Some of the most effective ice fishing baits are jigs and minnows, and jigging spoons.
Caution is Advised
There is the belief among many anglers that "first ice" offers the best fishing of the year. Whether that is the case, or it's just that anglers are itching to go fishing, anglers who venture onto the ice too early run the risk of breaking through and plunging into the cold water. The Minnesota DNR advises anglers not to walk on the ice until it is at least four inches thick.
Fish oftentimes are on the move, yet many anglers ice fish from stationary fish houses. They will have good fishing when the fish are below them, then struggle when the fish move somewhere else. The most successful ice fishermen -- those who have the most consistent success -- never stay in one place for long, unless the fish are biting. Anglers should drill holes in likely areas -- over humps, reefs, drop-offs or vegetation -- and fish in the same hole only as long as the fish are biting. When 30 minutes have passed without a bite, it's time to head elsewhere.
It is easy to tell where there is a hot ice fishing bite in Minnesota because small colonies of fish houses will be set up on such lakes. And while good ice fishing can be had on many of Minnesota's lakes, some lakes are known for offering an ice bite that's consistently good. Some of those lakes are: Lake of the Woods, Upper Red Lake, Lake Winnibigoshish, Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Minnetonka.