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Fishing slowed a bit during the coldest days in January, but action continues to heat up and should continually improve during the month of February. Please note that recent unseasonably warm temperatures throughout the state have caused ice conditions to change in some areas. It is extremely important to use caution when heading out! Anyone considering a trip out onto the ice must first check with local bait shops and resorts for the most current ice conditions. Anglers venturing out are asked to carry ice claws and a long rope, wear a floatation device, and check ice depth often. Please stay informed, and brush up on Minnesota DNR Ice Safety Tips before heading out on your next ice fishing adventure. The most current Minnesota DNR Conservation Officer Reports may also be useful.
The fishing season for walleye, sauger, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass in most Minnesota waters remains open through February 26, 2012. Smallmouth bass, however, are catch-and-release only through February 26. The winter season for lake trout within and outside of the BWCA runs through March 31, 2012. The winter season for stream trout in southern Minnesota is catch-and-release only, and also runs through March 31, 2012. And, Minnesota fishing opener dates for the 2012/2013 fishing season for most inland waters are as follows: walleye, sauger, northern pike and lake trout, May 12; largemouth and smallmouth bass, May 26; muskie, June 2. The fishing season for crappies, sunnies, perch and catfish is continuous. The fishing season for stream trout in streams is catch-and-release only April 1-13; the regular season beginning April 14. Please note that seasons and regulations vary for certain boundary waters and some individual lakes and rivers–please check out the Minnesota DNR Fishing Seasons and Minnesota DNR Fishing Regulations pages to learn more.
Anglers may obtain fishing licenses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by dialing 1-888-665-4236 or accessing DNR License Sales.
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International Falls – Rainy Lake & the Rainy River
Ice fishing has been great on Rainy Lake, with fish hitting jigs and minnows in 25-35 feet of water from Sand Bay eastward to Cranberry Bay. Northern pike are lurking around Black Bay, and there are sporadic reports of good crappie numbers coming from Sand Bay. Some of the best ice fishing spots are now accessible due to opening of the Park Service Ice Road around the north side of Dryweed Island and looping back to Cranberry Bay Road. Access to these roads is from the ramp at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. And area snowmobile trails are in great shape and riding conditions should remain excellent for the next several days. All park service snowmobile trails are open and staked, with lots of good trails for skiing and snowshoeing as well. 1-800-325-5766; www.rainylake.org
Trout fishing has dominated the scene lately, with good numbers of lake trout coming out of area trout lakes. Roughly half are coming in on ciscoes and the remainder are being taken on jigging type lures such as airplane jigs, bionic bucktails and chubby darters. Rainbow trout action has been excellent early in the day, with fish measuring up to 22-inches. For the most fish, use a darker colored small jig tipped with a waxworm or dead crappie minnow fished in waters less than 10 feet deep. A few splake weighing up to 7-pounds were recently taken from roughly 20 feet of water during the day. Walleye are being taken by anglers that stay on move, working depths of 6-30 feet at the structure, such as weed edges and reef tops. For the most fish, use a northland buckshot jigging spoon, small chubby dater, or small lindy darter. 1-800-777-7281; www.ely.org
Cook/Tower – Lake Vermilion
Cook County: Lutsen-Tofte, Grand Marais, Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage
The trout action on Gunflint Trail lakes has been great. On Kemo Lake, outside of Grand Marais, lake trout are attacking minnows, jigs, and spoons worked in 20-30 foot depths. On Clearwater Lake, midway up the trail, large lake trout are being pulled through the holes, with many weighing 4-5 pounds. At the end of the trail, on Saganaga Lake, most lake trout are coming from deeper waters on jigs and spoons tipped with minnows and ciscoes. Just north of Grand Marais, the spake are hitting ice jigs and waxworms worked in 8-18 feet of water on Pine Mountain and Mink lakes. Northern pike action remains consistently strong on East Twin, Pike, and Devil Track lakes, as well as on Caribou Lake just north of Lutsen–just drop a sucker minnow through a hole in 6-18 feet of water and you’ll likely get a fish! www.VisitCookCounty.com
Baudette – Lake of the Woods & the Rainy River
Fishing remains great on Lake of the Woods. Anglers have had to be a bit more skilled and patient since fish can be seen on the electronics but they need to be coaxed before they’ll bite! The best approach seems to be either a plain hook and minnow or a favorite jigging spoon worked in 32 feet of water. A good share of the walleye have been suspended, with many of these fish measuring roughly 26-inches. Anglers looking for a trophy are encouraged to use their electronics, hitting depths of 16-18 feet early in the morning and late in the evening. Ice is averaging over 2 feet thick. Up at the North West Angle, depths of 17-21 feet have been best during early morning and late evening hours, with 27-29 foot depths being best during midday hours. Anything that glows have worked well for walleye and sauger. Fishing has slowed a bit just south of Oak Island, but anglers continue to bring in limits. Anglers report that the crappie bite remains strong. The snowmobile trail up to Oak Island is in good shape, but riders will want to watch out for a few pressure ridges along the way. The continuous fluctuation in temperatures this season is causing a lot of pushing and pulling of these ridges. 1-800-382-FISH; www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com
Anglers continue to enjoy the mild temperatures, good ice conditions and minimal amount of snow cover on most lakes–this weekend looks like it will be mild as well, with highs remaining in the 30s! Fishing slowed somewhat during the coldest days in mid-January, but action should continue to improve during the month of February. Most of the larger area lakes are producing walleye during morning and evening hours. Depending on conditions, walleye are coming from the deep edge of the weedlines all the way down to the edge of the basin–these fish typically move to structure during low light periods, and head for deeper waters during the day. Walleye in stained lakes often suspend over deeper waters during the day, at approximately the same depth where they will make contact with structure when become more active. Anglers using sonar usually have a big advantage since they can see when the fish move through, when their presentations trigger bites, and when they are making the fish skittish! Perch anglers are finding schools of perch in both the deep and shallow waters. The shallow bite is occurring on the rocks and on the edges of flats with cabbage weeds or chara covering the bottom. The deeper perch have been close to the edge of the basin, where they can feed on both insects and minnows. Anglers are finding crappies on the edges of the structure connected to deep water, mostly in 20-30 feet of water, suspended a few feet off the bottom. 1-800-458-2223; www.visitbemidji.com
Bena -Lake Winnibigoshish
The Lake Winnibigoshish perch bite has been great! Several areas around the lake are giving up lots of perch, with the shore drops down to 26-34 foot depths being best. Areas to check include the Moxey Drop, Stump Line, Snag Drop and the West Side Drop around Sugar Lake. The humps to the north are producing well, with perch moving in and out of the humps–it is important to stay mobile until you locate fish. The walleye bite is good at the main lake bars. Bena Bar from Big Musky out to the Bend, as well as Horseshoe and Sugar bars are all good. Fish the top third of the water column in 15-23 feet of water. Rattle spoons and a minnow head continue to work well. On cloudy, foggy days, use glow colors. The northern pike bite remains strong for the tip-up anglers fishing 3-6 feet off the bottom in 15-23 foot depths. Smaller area lakes are starting to produce crappies and sunnies. Look to Six Mile, Little Ball Club, and Big Ball Club lakes for good panfish action. Evening hours until 9:00 p.m. seem to be the best. Some sunnies are being caught during the day on these lakes as well. On average, there is 20-24 inches of ice, with very little snow. The ice heaves are mostly staying put. Still, as always, it is essential that you check with the resort where you access the lake to get the most current report on ice conditions. www.lakewinnie.net
Walker – Leech Lake
Leech Lake is more accessible this year than it has been in a long time due to a lack of snow and slush, with access to nearly all hot spots on the lake. Overall, the ice is averaging 18-21 inches thick. Still, anglers are asked to remain very vigilant about safety, watching for ice heaves and open cracks on the larger lakes, and staying away from areas where rivers or streams run in to or out of the lake. Also avoid areas that historically have poor ice conditions because of springs or narrow channels. Most anglers continue to catch plenty of fish, including walleye, perch, northern pike, crappies and sunnies. Lots of eating-sized walleye measuring 12-18 inches are being reported. In Walker Bay, anglers report lots of nice-sized perch and an occasional walleye coming from 11-14 foot depths. Panfish enthusiasts are catching limits of crappies and sunnies on other area lakes. These fish have been suspended in most locations, with some fish found closer to the surface than to the bottom of the lake. Several anglers who recently fished two area lakes reported that the larger crappies were taken closer to the surface and the smaller crappies were pulled from large schools of suspended fish roughly 4-8 feet off the bottom. And one lucky angler recently caught a 32-inch northern pike! 1-800-833-1118; www.leech-lake.com
Ice conditions remain good despite lingering mild temperatures. This weekend will remain mild and anglers should be comfortable sitting on a bucket enjoying the action, easily moving to another spot if necessary. Lake travel remains easy, except for a few accesses that are still hampered by shoreline ice heaves. Please remember not to cross the pressure ridges to and stay away from areas with current, especially on days with mild temperatures. Last weekend, one angler pulled four walleye from 15-19 feet of water. While on the ice for roughly two hours, these fish, along with a few that didn’t make it through the hole, were all taken during a 45-minute window just as the sun hit the tree line. Buckshot rattle jigging spoons tipped with minnow heads did the trick when worked in 12-14 feet of water on a weed edge. Anglers are also reporting a great panfish and perch bite over the past week or so. 1-800-542-3992; www.visitdetroitlakes.com
Otter Tail Lakes Area
Otter Tail Lake continues to give up quite a few jumbo perch and walleye in 10-20 foot depths along the weed edges. Fatheads, shiners, and sucker minnows are working best on jigs and setlines. Spear anglers are taking some large northern pike–please remember that only one northern over 30-inches can be in possession. Crappies are starting to turn more active, especially on West Battle and East Lost lakes in 15-25 feet of water. Ice is generally 18-20 inches thick, and all accesses are open. 1-800-423-4571; www.ottertailcountry.com
Whitefish Chain of Lakes Area
Brainerd Lakes Area
Glow jigs and minnows are producing crappies in 20-30 feet of water on Hay and Round lakes. Cullen and Nisswa lakes are producing sunfish in depths of 10-15 feet. Look for walleye using shiner minnows, rainbows, or small spoons in 16-30 feet of water on Gull, North Long, and Round lakes. Northern pike continue to hit shiners and sucker minnows in depths of 10-15 feet on Gull and Edward lakes. Closer to Crosby, the walleye reports have slowed, but a few nice fish continue to be taken during evening hours in 28-32 feet of water on Nokay Lake. Panfish action has been good on Nokay, Cedar, Bay, Milford, and Crooked lakes, with lots of crappies coming from 30-plus feet of water and large numbers of sunnies pulled from depths of 9-15 feet. Northern pike action has been exceptional for both anglers and spearers in 8-15 feet of water near green weeds on Lower Mission, Black Bear, Rabbit and Mahnomen lakes. 1-800-450-2838; www.explorebrainerdlakes.com
Aitkin Area Lakes/Northern Lake Mille Lacs
Isle/Onamia – Lake Mille Lacs
On the east side of Lake Mille Lacs, snowmobiles and ATVs are now able to travel to the main-lake flats and reefs where walleye and perch are biting in 25-plus feet of water. The 15- to 18-foot shoreline breaks and deeper gravel areas are also producing walleye, mainly during low-light periods. Northern pike continue to hit sucker minnows worked in 10-15 feet of water in Isle, Wahkon, and Cove bays. On the west side of Lake Mille Lacs, walleye and perch continue to be pulled from 15-20 foot depths in St. Alban’s Bay. The ice has improved enough to now allow ATVs and snowmobiles to start traveling to some of the main-lake mud flats. Look to the edges of these flats during the day and on top of them during low-light periods for the most walleye. 1-888-350-2692; www.millelacs.com
Twin Cities Greater Metropolitan vicinity
Few reports are available due to current warm temperatures causing changes in ice conditions in many areas.
Northeast Metro/Chisago Lakes Area
White Bear Area Lakes
White Bear Lake has 13-15 inches of ice on average. The area near the VFW is giving up quite a few crappies and walleye. On Bald Eagle Lake, crappie anglers are taking fish by the island, and walleye are coming through the holes at Rock Point. Please note that Bald Eagle Lake has been closed to all vehicle travel–anglers are venturing out by foot. 651/653-5122; www.ExploreWhiteBear.org
Few reports are available due to current warm temperatures causing changes in ice conditions in many areas.
Lake City – Lake Pepin/Pool #4 Mississippi River
Lanesboro – Southeast Bluff Country Trout Streams
Rochester -Southeast Minnesota Lakes and Rivers
The stream trout bite remains good on area streams! For a list and maps showing designated winter trout fishing streams, visit the Minnesota DNR Winter Trout Streams page. 1-800-634-8277; www.rochestercvb.org
Faribault Area Lakes
Fountain Lake is giving up lots of crappies, perch and sunnies near the Edgewater Park Fishing Pier and in the Shoreland Beach area. On Albert Lea Lake, anglers report good numbers of walleye. 1-800-345-8414; www.albertleatourism.org
Fairmont Area Lakes
Ortonville – Big Stone Lake