Winter can be a grueling season. From power outages to road closures, the season can seem endless. For the beloved kayaker, frozen lakes usually mean packing up and heading south or searching for another way to spend your time. For the kayak fishermen though – it’s a whole different story! Welcome to the season of ice fishing.
Passed down from generation to generation, the skill set ice fishing takes - and the type of fish you will be looking for - differ on location. To help streamline your adventures, we’ve put together some tips and tricks for on your next excursion as well as some hot spots in the Northern United States
So, you’re the occasional fisherman out on the water on a beautiful sunny day. Are you ready to take on the winter months and see what you can catch? The gear you have will make a big difference on your next adventure. And the biggest key is layers. To get you started, double and triple check you have a base layer, insulated socks, a mid layer, a shell jacket, bibs, boots, gloves and a hat. Face/neck warmers are also a great idea – as are hand and foot warmers. Never underestimate the power of the cold!
You may also want to consider a pop-up ice shelter to keep the wind off your backs. They come in all shapes and sizes, but some things to look out for is the fabric insulation, the diameter of the poles, and its weight.
If the lake hasn’t frozen over, you’ll also need a versatile, portable kayak to be able to reach those hard-to-get-to places teaming with winter fish. The K-PAK Folding Boat comes in its own backpack so you can hike with it wherever you need. It also has enough room for a spare change of clothes and snacks. See more here.
2. Bait and Tackle
Most fish aren't as aggressive in the winter, so use lighter tackle for ice fishing. Some common tackle for ice fishing are jigging rods, hooks, ice flies, jigs, and tip-ups. As fishing in the winter months can be pretty unpredictable, the key is to try various types of bait and to experiment with how many larvae to load on your hook. Try bait such as wax worms, spikes, goldenrod grubs (if you can find them!) and mousies. Pro tip: Keep bait lively and irresistible to fish by not allowing it to freeze.
1. Lake of the Woods - Minnesota
A popular spot among locals and tourists from around the surrounding parts, Lake of the Woods has all an ice fisherman could ask for. The most popular catch here is the Walleye, a freshwater perciform fish native to most of Canada and to the Northern United States. The Walleye is also the official state fish of Minnesota! So no worries as there should be plenty to find here. The Lake of the Woods has plenty of heated ice fishing houses too, so you never have to go cold if you don’t want to. Beautiful surroundings and delicious fish - sounds like a winner!
2. Waubay Lake - South Dakota
Waubay Lake covers over 12,841 acres and contains fish such as Walleyes, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Black Crappies, and Spottail Shiners. The ice fishing season here usually starts in December and lasts until about March. Headed out for your first ice fishing extravaganza? No worries, Waubay Lake has plenty of experienced guides to help!
3. Lake Winnebago - Wisconsin
You can’t have an ice fishing list without Wisconsin! Wisconsin is the perfect back drop for some ice fishing with cold weather rolling in early and temperatures dropping in November/December icing up those lakes for a good time! Lake Winnebago is the largest inland lake in Wisconsin and teaming with plenty of fish for the crowds that inhabit this area. Some popular fish include walleye, perch, white bass and sturgeon. Pick up some tips and tricks before you go, and don’t forget the hot chocolate!
4. Devil's Lake - North Dakota
Because of its enormous size and the mass amounts of fish, you can’t go wrong with Devils Lake – known as the ‘Perch capital of the world’. Swing by a local store to pick up a map, then head out away from the crowds to some quite winter wonderland. The great thing about this destination is even though this is a popular tourist spot, you can always find a quite area away from other anglers. A season-long, non-resident fishing license in North Dakota is only $45, and the gamefish season never closes (April 1-March 31). Long story short? You get more time to explore early and late seasons when fishing is hot!
5. Range Pond State Park - Maine
Looking for a place to get the kids started, or for a fun family gathering? Range Pond State Park is the perfect spot to get the kids out of the house. Specifically, on March 4th they have kids day with free prizes, bait, games, and ice holes pre-drilled ready for the day. This state park wraps around the eastern end of Lower Range Pond in the town of Poland in Androscoggin County, Maine. If you ever get tired of fishing (?!), it’s also a perfect spot to get some snowboarding or skiing in as well!
6. Big Spirit Lake - Iowa
Big Spirit Lake is a habitat for over 40 species of fish, including large and smallmouth bass, blue gill, crappie, muskies, panfish, pike, yellow perch and walleyes. In the winter months, walleyes and yellow perch are prevalent and the area becomes a hot spot for fun outdoor sport. Heated structures are available so head out early and enjoy the day!
7. Lakes Waubesa and Kegonsa – Wisconsin
Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa were formed by glaciers 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and are 2 of the post popular ice fishing spots in the area. Muskie, bass, northern pike, crappie, perch and bluegill are some of the most popular fish you can find in this area. Tip: Try fishing in 30-35 ft. of water in the middle of the lake – it’s is a great location to find perch. Use a pencil sinker with a small jig tipped with spikes to fish on, or very near, the bottom
8. Chambers Lake - Colorado
Colorado is great for ice fishing from December to late February. Chambers Lake is 250-acres and is situated seven miles east of the top of Cameron pass on Hwy. 14. Lucky anglers can catch the hard-fighting kokanee salmon making for a delicious meal! Before you head out, always make a quick phone call or pop into your local tackle shop to make sure conditions will be safe for the time you want to fish.
No matter where you go, enjoy the winter season outdoors as much as possible and get together with friends and family for a good time! Whether you catch some fish or not, remember what the best part of winter fishing is. No bugs!