Many anglers enjoy ice fishing as much or more than open water angling. From first ice through breakup, a wealth of ice-fishing opportunities are available across the Northern Wilds. The following guide highlights the region’s best ice-fishing hotspots.
Many lakes in southern Lake County are best accessed with a snowmobile during the winter, but drive-up anglers can find plenty of good fishing, says Todd Aho at Maple Grove Motel and Bait Shop in Finland (218) 353-7303. For walleyes, he suggests Crooked, Dumbell and Nine Mile as vehicle-accessible lakes. Lax Lake has walleyes, as well as crappies, bluegills and occasional good-sized northern pike. You may catch a few crappies in Nine Mile as well. Some of the stocked trout lakes are located along plowed roads. Hare and Echo lakes east of Finland are easy to reach in the winter, as are Divide and Hogback lakes east of Isabella.
Crappies are popular with Duluth ice anglers. Nico Giancola at Marine General (218) 724-8833 says Boulder Lake is a top choice with Fish Lake coming in second. You can catch crappies in the St. Louis River, but be careful because the current creates tricky ice conditions. Caribou Lake has sunfish as well as crappies. For walleyes and northerns, Fish, Island, Grand and Pike lakes are favorites. The St. Louis River is “hit or miss” when it comes to walleyes, says Giancola. Further upstream, you can find walleyes above the Fond du Lac Dam, but again, be aware of variable ice conditions.
Once ice forms on Lake Superior, you can fish near shore or out in deep water. In the shallows, look for Kamloops rainbows, coho salmon and a mix of other species. Further out, jigging for lake trout is popular—they’ll be on the bottom from depths of less than 100 to over 200 feet. Within the water column you may catch lake herring and other species.
Panfish are not found around Thunder Bay, so ice anglers substitute whitefish for fast action and good eats. At D&R Sports (888) 345-1511, a recommended early season hotspot for whitefish and herring is the Silver Harbour access on Thunder Bay, also a good starting point for lake trout. For walleyes, it’s hard to beat Lac des Mille Lacs, which some call the Ice Shack Capitol of Northern Ontario. The fishing only improves as winter wanes and the walleyes begin staging for the spring spawn.
For lake trout, Clearwater and Eva lakes provide quality fishing. Within day-tripping distance of Thunder Bay are dozens of lakes stocked with brook trout and splake. A guide book available locally lists all of the lakes and how to reach them.
In Ely, ice fishing starts and ends with crappies. Joe Baltich at Red Rock Wilderness Store (218) 365-4512 says the Kawishiwi River, Birch, White Iron and Fall lake are popular crappie haunts where panfish may reach dinner plate proportions. The best fishing is usually shortly after first ice and picks up again in March. Walleyes are another first-ice favorite, both in the above-mentioned waters and Wind Bay of Basswood Lake and on the outskirts of town at Shagawa Lake.
Northern pike spearers also like Shagawa. You can catch pike aplenty in Basswood Lake’s Hoist Bay, which also contains lake trout. Snowbank and Burntside lakes are traditional laker waters and you might catch bonus eelpout (also known as lawyers). These freshwater cod are ugly, but tasty. Also flavorful are stream trout in lakes stocked by the DNR. High and Tofte lakes are consistent producers, while the Glacier Ponds are hit and miss.
Trout are tops in Grand Marais during the winter, according to the folks at Buck’s Hardware (218) 387-2280. For stream trout, Trout, Musquash, Pine Mountain and Topper lakes are perennial favorites. For lake trout, try Gunflint, Loon, Trout, West Bearskin and South lakes.
After the early winter bite, walleye action slows down, with North and South Fowl lakes being notable exceptions. Late in the winter, Saganaga Lake turns on as prespawn walleyes stage near river inlets. Because they are Canadian border waters with a longer open season, you can ice-fish for walleyes on the Fowls and Sag until April 15.