(Oct. 13, 2013 - Braham, MN)...
There are plenty of good first ice destinations but these are my personal pics and they’re some dandies. From big walleyes to giant pike to eye poppin perch you can take your pick and it really is all good. Sure they all probably require some extra drive time but they are all about as close to a lead pipe cinch as you can get.
First on the list is Lake of the Woods which puts out tons of walleyes every year. From the Rainy River, to Pine Island, to the NW Angle; the fishing is always good. Sure there are times when it’s better than others and you can run into difficult fishing on occasion but even then it’s still good, especially when you compare it to any other fishery. The early season action starts out relatively shallow along the break line off of Pine Island and moves deeper and deeper as the season progresses. Same thing for shoreline breaks all the way over to Long Point and beyond. As good ice develops the deeper humps can be expected to put out lots of fish including Knight and Bridges. Next on the list is Garden Island which can help keep the action going late into the season. The Angle can be reached by sled or you can get a ride with Sportsman’s Lodge if you decide to use their houses and stay with them. You can also get there by driving up the west side and going out of Young’s Bay where they plow a road all the way to Oak Island. Here you can expect steady walleye action all season long with a good chance for running into numbers of jumbo perch and they are some fat little pigs. There are also some big slab crappies and an unlimited supply of walleyes that never see a bait in the Canadian water but you’ll need an Ontario license, your passport, and a remote border crossing permit if you decide to go after them.
Upper Red Lake in Minnesota was hot last winter and it looks like we could expect more of the same this year. The summer action was exceptional which is a good indicator what we might expect this winter. The action typically starts out shallow off of the first and only break and then moves deeper and deeper as good ice develops. And ends up out in the middle of nowhere and can be a little overwhelming when you’re trying to find fish. My advice would be to try and forget finding structure because for the most part there isn’t any and you really don’t need it to catch fish. Fish can be found roaming the basin which is maybe thirteen feet deep or so and they can be anywhere. Just set up, drill some holes and fish for a bit. If you’re not seeing fish; move on. Maybe a half mile this way or that, and then try it again. Sooner or later the fish will show up and you can put a hurt on them in short order. To give you an example on a trip last January my buddies and I spent a few hours looking for fish and about an hour and a half catching our limit.
Next up is Devil’s Lake in North Dakota which is red hot right now and loaded with walleyes and super-sized perch. The perch are the big draw for me and a lot of other anglers and there really isn’t anyplace else like it. Having spent some quality time last season fishing with Aaron McQuoid of mcquoidguides.com fame on the big lake I can personally attest to the size and the numbers. Even the small ones you catch are almost all solid keepers. Aaron put us on the fish and we were able to do some serious catching with perch from twelve to some pushing fifteen inches ending up in the pail. We caught our walleyes too along with a number of pike but they were just a bonus. We came for the perch and they didn’t disappoint. Some of the areas Aaron prefers include shoreline breaks with sunken trees and there are a lot of them and all have the potential to produce fish. There is so much fishable water that you can actually have a spot loaded with fish all to yourself and maybe not see another angler all day.
If you have a need to wrestle with some big gators then Ft. Peck reservoir in Montana may your best bet by a long shot. Besides some huge walleyes and a sizeable population of lake trout this huge lake is loaded with giant northern pike and they seem to be everywhere. By giant I mean fish in the thirty-eight to forty plus inch range and there are lots of them and they bite, can’t help themselves. On an investigative angling trip last winter with pro fisherman Jason Mitchell we found the pike at the first place we stopped, and the next, and the next. We were legally able to set out six tip-ups apiece which kept our fishing party busy, all day long. We had some big chubs that Jason was babysitting to keep alive but they really weren’t necessary. A buddy had sent along a couple bags of frozen ciscoes that thawed as we used them and became downright slimy and rotten by the last day of the trip and had become difficult to keep on the hook but the worse they got the more they seemed to produce, especially with the biggest fish. One important note is the fact reservoir ice deserves plenty of respect so don’t try it unless you know the conditions. A reservoir means a dammed up river and with that there is current which can create dangerous ice in areas that can be identified like points from the main lake and even back in the creek arms. You can have good solid ice everywhere else but have little or no ice close to the points, so be extra careful.
There you have it; it’s the best I’ve got. So many fish and so little time. For lodging and guide service on Devil’s Lake you can reach Aaron McQuoid at 701-351-6058. See you on the ice.