A Six Pack of Ice Fishing Destinations

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by Erik Osberg

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Photo by Visit Bemidji

Come winter, Minnesota, widely known as the land of 10,000 lakes, becomes the land of 10,000 frozen lakes. With so many lakes to choose from, picking the right destination can be a bit overwhelming. Here's a short list of some very popular destinations when it comes to ice fishing in the northwest region of Minnesota.

Detroit Lakes Area

There are roughly 400 lakes within 25 miles of Detroit Lakes. Detroit Lake is within the city limits, so you don't have to go off the grid. It is also big enough (3,000 acres) to allow you to experience peace and quiet while on the ice. The lake is stocked with walleye and has plenty of good size pike and panfish. Visit Detroit Lakes to learn more about lodging and other amenities.  

Park Rapids Area

This area is known as the source of the Mississippi, but to ice anglers, it's a winter wonderland. With hundreds of pristine lakes nearby, untouched wilderness and plenty of trails, you will catch a memory when you visit. There's nothing quite like venturing off the beaten path to one of the tranquil lakes nestled in the towering pines. Throw in some fresh snow, and getting there will truly be half the fun.  If you'd like a hand in finding one of the hidden gems, we recommend hiring an experienced guide. You can look for guides and get help planning your trip in the Park Rapids Lakes Area.

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Photo by Sportsman's Lodges

Leech Lake Area

For nearly 40 years, ice anglers and others in search of a good time have converged on Walker for the annual Eelpout Festival. But Leech Lake is more than just burbot. The walleye population is as strong as ever on Leech, and there's plenty of big perch, too. Resorts are more prepared than ever to assist you in your ice fishing adventure. Fish house rentals are also becoming very popular on Leech Lake, so you don't need to own your own gear to have a great time.

Bemidji Area

If you like to don red-and-black plaid and feel like Paul Bunyan, then Bemidji is the place for you. There are literally hundreds of lakes within 30 miles of this northern Minnesota town, and Lake Bemidji is at the center of it all. Walleyes, perch and crappies abound, and catching them is even more rewarding when you are on the ice. Once again, hiring local knowledge is the safest bet when it comes to putting fish topside. Many offer both sleeper houses and day trips and are happy to accommodate groups.

Upper Red Lake

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Photo by Lake of the Woods

One of the challenging parts about ice fishing can be finding good ice, especially early in the season. Because of it's large shallow basin, Upper Red Lake is historically the first lake to offer fishable ice. The other good news is Upper Red is a walleye factory!  The secret to success on this lake is mobility. If you have your own gear, staying on the move until you find active fish will greatly up your odds. A typical setup is a spoon and minnow head on one rod, with a set rod nearby. The water can be very murky early in the year, so loud/colorful presentations seem to be best. There are numerous outfitters that rent sleeper houses on Upper Red Lake, so if you prefer the laidback approach, they've got you covered.  

Lake of the Woods

Last, but certainly not least, is Lake of the Woods. Over 300,000 acres of this 900,000 acre body of water are within Minnesota's border. One could spend an entire lifetime learning this lake. Luckily, the fine folks at Lake of the Woods have their finger on the pulse of everything from where to stay, to what lure to use. Arnesen's and Sportsman's are a couple of popular spots. Most anglers have their favorites, but when you are visiting the Walleye Capital of the World, it's hard to go wrong with whatever you put on the end of your line.  

No matter where you choose to go ice fishing in this great state, please be sure to check the Minnesota DNR regulations and share your adventure with the world by using #OnlyinMN on social media.