6 Places to Ice Fish in Northwest Minnesota

By Minnesota Heartland

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 for ice fishing in northwest Minnesota.

  1. Walker
    Man catching a fish while ice fishing on Leech Lake

    Ice fishing on Leech Lake


    For many decades, ice anglers and others in search of a good time have converged on Walker for fun on the ice. While it's best known for an ugly bottom-dwelling fish called eelpout, Leech Lake is more than burbot. The walleye population is as strong as ever on Leech, and there's plenty of big perch, too.

    Area 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 your own gear to have a great time.

  2. Park Rapids
    Park Rapids

    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. 

  3. Bemidji
    Snow-covered Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues

    Visit the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues just outside of downtown Bemidji / Weston Holland


    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.

  4. Upper Red Lake
    Upper Red Lake

    One of the challenging parts about ice fishing can be finding good ice, especially early in the season. Because of its 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.  

  5. Detroit Lakes
    Detroit Lakes

    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.

  6. Lake of the Woods
    Man holding two big fish after ice fishing on Lake of the Woods

    Bring home a trophy (or two) from Lake of the Woods / Arnesen's Rocky Point

    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.

    Most anglers have their favorite bait, 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.  

Minnesota Heartland is a regional association that works in partnership with Explore Minnesota to promote the 33 counties in Northwest and Central Minnesota.