Ice fishing has a devoted following in Minnesota, where towns of fish houses pop up each winter across the state’s thousands of lakes. Thanks to advances in equipment and the availability of rental fish houses, it’s never been easier to get started in the sport.

But fishing through an 8-inch hole in the ice isn’t the only way to hook a trophy. For anglers seeking a little more variety in their winter-fishing program, Minnesota offers a number of options for open water fishing, even when the majority of lakes in the state are frozen solid.

Like during other times of the year, winter anglers targeting open water can do so from a boat or the shoreline. Whatever their approach, safety must be the key consideration. The water temperature may not be low enough to freeze, but falling in can result in a life-threatening situation. Life jackets are essential.

Assuming you’ve taken the proper precautions, and are dressed sufficiently warmly, it’s time to learn firsthand how enjoyable it can be to spend a winter day on the water. Following are three great places for doing so.

Lake Superior

There are shore-fishing options along the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth all the way to the state’s border with Canada. While Lake Superior freezes over from time to time, it’s a rarity. As a result, anglers can fish the lake all winter long.

The lake is home to a variety of trout and salmon species, though winter shore anglers focus primarily on steelhead rainbow trout, which are native species, and Kamloops rainbow trout, which are stocked for anglers to catch. Both species remain relatively close to the shoreline throughout the winter, putting them in reach of shore fishermen.

For anyone who wants to learn more about winter shoreline fishing on Lake Superior, look for winter shore casting clinics offered by the Minnesota Steelheader group.

Mississippi River

While backwaters of the Mississippi River freeze during the winter, the main river remains open and provides year-round open-water fishing options to boat and shore anglers alike. From Lock and Dam 1 in Minneapolis all the way south to Lock and Dam 8 in Brownsville, anglers target walleyes and sauger throughout the winter months.

The fishing is quite similar to summer river angling in that jigs and minnows fished around wing dams and other structures tend to be productive. Anglers who aren’t picky about what they catch can cast out from shore and catch fish ranging from sauger and walleyes to sheepshead and smallmouth bass. Places where warm-water discharges enter the river can be extremely productive and produce multiple species of fish.

Trout Streams

The bluff country of southeast Minnesota is beautiful at any time of the year, but it is especially picturesque when there’s snow on the ground and the streams are running cold and clear. Few of these streams are big enough for boats (though canoes and kayaks can be used in some areas), so anglers either fish from the shoreline or don a pair of waders and walk in the water.

Southeastern streams are known for their fantastic fishing for brown trout, though anglers should note they aren’t allowed to keep any fish from the streams during the winter months. Check the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fishing regulations for season dates. The DNR also offers maps that show where winter anglers can fish.

 Tips for Staying Warm

Whereas fish houses can keep ice fishermen warm, open-water winter anglers have no such option. One of the best ways to beat the cold is to stay active, by walking up and down the shoreline, or by taking time to participate in another activity altogether. Geocaching, for example, can be done throughout the year, and no matter where people are fishing, there’s likely a cache to be found nearby. People who really want to have a winter adventure can incorporate winter camping into their fishing trip.


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