Enjoy the uniquely northern sport of ice fishing.
With a motto that aptly states, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” well, we all know just how important those glistening and gleaming bodies of water are to us in the bold north. We swim in them, we boat on them, we picnic around them, we catch fish in them. And we don’t let Old Man Winter with his decidedly-icy-and-sometimes-irritatingly-long-grip to deter us from dropping a line and catching a big one—nope!
In fact, we relish it.
We bundle up. We head to the frozen lake. We drill a hole. We bait a hook and drop a line. And we hope for a hungry or inquisitive fish to find that bait just so dang irresistible that it takes a nibble and, voila, a fish is on the line.
This process of catching fish on a frozen body of water, of course, has been going on for at least two millennia as a way for folks to eat when the weather cooled, and food became scarce. But now, ice fishing is mostly done as a hobby, a way to spend time relaxing alone or with friends or family, or for sport. Many Minnesota cities and towns hold well-attended ice fishing contests; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) notes they issue nearly 400 permits for ice fishing contests and tournaments statewide each year.
The DNR website (dnr.state.mn.us) is chock full of information, facts and regulations about ice fishing (and a whole lot of other stuff, too, but we’ll focus on ice fishing) in the approximately 4,500 fishing lakes in our neck of the woods. We’ve culled a few of those fish-inspired nuggets to inspire you to don your Mukluks and your warmest winter gear; so grab your fishing supplies and an auger, and, whether you plop yourself down on an overturned bucket or inside an elaborate icehouse, create a fish tale of your own.
Did you know?
If you are 16 or older, you need a license to ice fish in Minnesota lakes; you don’t need a license if you’re fishing in state parks.
The DNR’s website (dnr.state.mn.us) provides information about ice fishing, ice thickness safety, specific lake details (regulations, maps, fish species, stocking reports, etc.), where to find fishing groups and a whole lot more.
By the numbers
Battle Creek Lake
Area: 105.74 acres
Shore length: 1.86 miles
Maximum depth: 15.3 feet
Fish species: bass, bluegill, bullhead, carp, crappie, northern pike, sunfish, walleye
Area: 58 acres
Shore length: 1.57 miles
Maximum depth: 41 feet
Fish species: bass, bluegill, bullhead, crappie, northern pike, walleye
Area: 50.06 acres
Shore length: 1.22 miles
Maximum depth: 36 feet
Fish species: bass, bluegill, bullhead, carp, crappie, northern pike, emerald and golden shiner
What you’ll need:
Ice fishing rod: Yypically, 24”-36,” which is smaller than your warm weather fishing rod, as you need the leverage because of the confined space.
Ice fishing reel: More compact than a typical reel.
Ice fishing line: Created to withstand frigid temperatures and jagged ice.
Lures and bait: Dependent upon what fish are the target.
Tackle box: Yep, a way to keep all your small items secure and organized.
Ice auger or drill: A must; no hole = no fish.
A spot to sit: Whether on a five-gallon bucket or inside an icehouse.
Warm clothing: Make sure to dress in layers.
What to Catch
It’s probably no surprise that the favorite fish to catch in Minnesota, the most beloved, is—you guessed it—the walleye. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the official state fish and, well, just think of the best plate of grilled walleye you’ve ever eaten—with that subtle sweetness and delicate, flaky texture—and you’ll understand why Minnesotans adore this fish species, which is part of the perch family and is named for its distinguishable pearlescent eyes.
Did you know the bluegill, named for its large “gills,” is the most commonly caught fish in Minnesota?
We have two species of crappies in Minnesota, black and white, and they tend to hang out—not near the surface or the bottom of a lake— but, according to the DNR’s website, “somewhere in between.”
When you’re hankering to catch a big fish, one that fills the bill for a great fish tale, northern pike may just be the one. They’ll give you a run for your money, as they’re known to put up a fight as you bring them in. The state record is 45 pounds, 11 ounces, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Rig your fishing rod and set up shop:
Woodbury is brimming with icehouses during this time of the year, so we’ve chatted with recreation technician Jon Hagen about where to set up shop.
Woodbury Magazine: What lakes are the most popular for ice fishing in Woodbury?
Jon Hagen: The three lakes that are most popular are Powers Lake, Carver Lake and Battle Creek Lake. Powers Lake is the deepest lake of them all, however.
WM: Where are the best places to shop for bait and other supplies?
JH: I typically just head to the local Cabela’s or Dicks Sporting Goods. As far as live bait, Cabela’s has worms, but if you’re looking for minnows, I’ve found the closest areas are Blue Ribbon Bate and Tackle Shop in Oakdale or Ace Hardware in Inver Grove Heights.
WM: Your most memorable ice fishing experience?
JH: One of my most memorable experiences ice fishing was actually during a video shoot for the cable commission… I ended up catching a 12-inch crappie on Powers Lake.
WM: What should I know before heading to the lake?
JH: It’s a great way to spend the nice winter days in Minnesota, but be sure to check the DNR website on a lot of fishing information, [including] a license and the ice thickness.