By Joe Henry
There is an area in the northern section of Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods that is, well, let’s call it special. Special, that is, if you appreciate a variety of wildlife, thousands of islands, a relaxed way of life, and of course, world class fishing. If you have been there, there is a good chance you are a return visitor. If you have not been there, this is an adventure to add to the bucket list. This area is way too special to miss.
In thinking about Lake of the Woods, it helps to think about it in basically three parts. First, the Rainy River on the south end flows into the lake. Second, Big Traverse Bay is the large body of water in the middle that rivals a great lake. The third section is on the north end, starting at Garden Island, and is where the majority of the 14,552 islands of the lake begin. This area is the northernmost point of the contiguous U.S., and it’s called the NW Angle.
The NW Angle is a detached piece of land from the main portion of MN and is bordered on three sides by the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. Consequently, when driving to the Angle, you actually enter into Canada for about 40 minutes and then enter back into MN at the NW Angle. For that reason, visitors are required to have a passport, passport card, an enhanced driver’s license or combo of birth certificate and government issued photo ID for crossing the border.
For those who travel across the lake, you can avoid customs and everything that goes along with it.
With the current COVID – 19 US / Canada border closure, anglers and snowmobilers traveling to the Angle can stay in MN and avoid crossing the border into Canada by staying on the lake. In the winter, anglers in their vehicles who are traveling to a NW Angle resort can travel via the designated NW Angle guest ice road and snowmobilers on the groomed snowmobile trails across the lake.
As always, staying on the trails ensures the safest travel. When driving a vehicle or snowmobiling, great care is taken to stake trails where the ice is good. Before you venture off the trail, have an understanding of current areas, cracks, ice upheavals, and always take safety precautions.
Some NW Angle resorts offer a transport service across the lake to the Angle. It’s as easy as parking on the south end at the transport services parking lot, load your gear on the track rig and your adventure begins.
Fishing the MN side. This area really has it all. There are thousands of spots and the possibilities are limitless. Area resorts do a great job of moving their fish houses often keeping them on fish. One day, you may be fishing shallow rocks, the next, deep mud. No doubt, this is an incredible experience.
The NW Angle is a world class fishery all by itself. Anglers fishing this Minnesota treasure realize the incredible fishing that often gets missed or overlooked. There is structure on the Minnesota side with islands, points, sunken islands, edges and rock piles. On top of that Little Traverse Bay offers the “big basin” opportunity with miles of flat mud which can be a magnet for walleyes and saugers.
Island and shoreline structure. If you haven’t fished the MN side of the Angle, check out a map or Navionics on your phone. The structure is everywhere and typically, so are the walleyes. When starting out, if a person would simply target “fishy” looking spots, there are hundreds and most probably have some fish on them. Land points, underwater points, and nice edges can and will hold walleyes.
Sunken Islands. When you look at a map, there is structure in many parts of the Angle. In the winter months when walleyes love to live on the edges of sunken islands, it is fun to do a “milk run” meaning, going from spot to spot until you find schools of fish. I have found normally every third sunken island has walleyes. A fun way to fish that actually ends up being very productive.
Basins. Between Little Oak Island and Oak Island is Little Traverse Bay. This is a big stretch of flat mud that gets down to about 30’ of water. This is a great area that holds winter walleyes and saugers. There is a plethora of life that lives on or in the mud. Larvae of various bug hatches, bloodworms, schools of minnows and other small creatures that are to the liking of walleyes are prevalent often throughout the year. This area will produce not only good numbers of fish but some of the larger females in the area as well.
Multi Species. Walleye rule in these parts, that’s just the way it is. Hence, the name given to the lake, “The Walleye Capital of the World.” One thing about ice fishing the Angle is you will catch a mixed bag on most days.
Walleyes, saugers, jumbo perch, pike, eelpout, and tulibees will be in the mix. On occasion, an ice angler might pull a nice smallmouth, muskie or even sturgeon!
Local Resorts. Fortunately, this area has a number of passionate resort owners and guides looking to get you on fish. They are excellent at moving houses and working hard to make your ice fishing adventure memorable.
It’s always” fishing” and expectations in these parts are high, but when you fish for two or three days, normally things work out pretty well.
As a bonus, there is a nice variety of cute resort bars and restaurants in the area. Some anglers choose to cook on their own and maybe go out for a meal or two. Others prefer the American plan where the lodging, meals, ice fishing, fish cleaning and transportation are all covered. Lots of options in the Angle.
The NW Angle is an absolute oasis of ice fishing, hunting, wildlife and a variety of outdoor activities. It’s an area that does not get a lot of attention. It’s also an area that once you visit, you can bet you will be back