By Brad Castle
Winter comes early and stays late each year at Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods. November begins the wait for ice. Located at the most northern point of the lower 48 states, the season of ice draws tens of thousands of walleye anglers from across the Midwest and points far beyond. On the border, resorts specialize in catering to winter anglers making the quest for walleye gold easy and convenient.
The beginning bite is always close to the shorelines, on the first accessible lake ice. The target is the mid-teens to the mid-twenties foot depth ranges. The fish have had a good 6-8 week reprieve from angler pursuit by the start time of ice fishing. Spoons tipped with minnow heads, plus jigs and plain hook presentations teamed with a bobber are all effective ways to pull Walleyes through the ice. Key colors to present to the finned predators are glow, glow red, gold and other metal colors in spoons, jigs, and hooks. Rattles in baits can also be a very effective way to draw those hungry Walleyes to you.
Beyond being rigged properly and in the correct locations, a good depth finder/flasher will be your best tool when it comes to connecting with Walleyes. Feedback from the flasher gives a good insight into the fish and their mood, behavior, and aggression on that particular day and time. Often the mood of the Walleyes will change multiple times in a day on the ice. It is very common for them to show a real distinct preference for a certain presentation and color.
The earliest of the ice season’s anglers access the lake via ATV’s and snowmobiles with portable fish houses usually around the first of December. Permanent heated fish houses soon follow, offering resort guests a comfortable and easy ice fishing experience. The resorts do the work, ice fishermen get to enjoy the good times and great ice fishing. Around December 10th is generally the start time for resorts to get their houses out and fishing on an average year. Anglers can find resorts and motel lodging options that cater to both styles of fishing. The full-service fishermen and the portable do it yourselfers. Not long after the permanent houses are out resorts will begin to place their sleeper fish houses on Lake of the Woods.
In the early ice window, resorts transport guests to and from their fish houses. Light ice transportation gear is a must at the beginning of the season. Resorts use small four-wheel-drive vehicles to get around at the start each year. The resorts and the ice crews are the experts and spend every day on the lake in the winter and your safety is always the number one goal at Lake of the Woods. Once thicker ice takes hold, the road systems grow and begin stretching further into the lake. The heavier plow trucks, larger fish houses, and sleeper fish houses begin to make their appearance.
Most of the ice operations will have some kind of map showing the ice road system and fish house locations along with marked and named road and trail systems. Independent travel with your vehicle on the lake is by far the most common way of getting to a rental or sleeper fish house these days on Lake of the Woods. Guests do enjoy the freedom of coming and going as they please on their own schedule. Though it is tempting, you are best served by keeping your speed and vehicle under control when on the ice roads. A good rule is to keep your on-ice travel speed at 20 mph or less.
Great fishing, eas of getting to it and a chance at a true trophy, the main reasons people take the adventure to chase Walleyes through the ice at Lake of the Woods. Sauger, Perch, Northern Pike, and Burbot are also commonly caught. The most popular package is 3 nights, 2 days of fishing with shorter and longer options available. Meal plans are also offered to make your stay a complete carefree trip and will include a cook your catch option. There isn’t much better dining than fresh Walleye you caught earlier in the day.
River Bend’s Resort and the Walleye Inn has all the options listed above for a great ice fishing trip. Cabins, fish houses, hotel lodging and sleeper houses plus a large modern full-service restaurant and bar that is a popular gathering spot for guests and anglers fishing the lake. Their kitchen features Trophy Burgers! A delicious variety of fresh hand pattied burgers, best on the lake plus a full menu and some great appetizers. River Bend’s Resorts, a fun place for an ice fishing adventure. Call 1-800-292-3084 to book a reservation, they also offer mid-winter discount rates. For more info visit www.riverbendsresorts.com