For the angler who doesn’t back down when the mercury dips below freezing, Minnesota offers some of the best ice fishing in North America. If you are planning to hit the ice this winter, and need a little help getting started, keep reading. This article outlines the necessary equipment as well as some species and general locations to help you tackle the hard water with success.
One of the first steps before going ice fishing is to determine what gear you’ll need. Here’s a handy list of the gear that’s required:
- Slush scoop
- Tip ups with line
- Tackle assortment
- Bait bucket
- Safety picks
- Warm clothing
- Needle-nose pliers
For drilling holes, a manual auger will work. However, to be more efficient, a power auger is highly recommended. Also, at a bare minimum, an ice angler should have two complete rod/reel setups – one light or ultra light for panfish and one medium or heavy for larger predators.
In addition to the necessities, recommended gear includes:
- Sonar (LCD or flasher)
- Flip-over portable shack
- Propane heater
- Mapping GPS
- Ice cleats
- Jaw grippers
- Jaw spreaders
Success in ice fishing is possible without this gear, but it’s far less likely. For instance, a sonar unit can increase a day’s catch by a factor of 10 or more. A portable shack and heater will keep you warm, comfortable and alert. A GPS will allow you to precisely locate prime fish-holding structure. This gear does require a considerable investment, but for someone who intends to make ice fishing a serious pastime, it is highly recommended.
Species, Location & Presentation
Now that you’re stocked up on gear, it’s time to hit the ice and catch some fish! The first step is to select a target species. Four of Minnesota’s most popular ice fishing targets include walleye, northern pike, lake trout and panfish.
For walleye, a good first step is to look for main lake points, reefs and humps that top out in the eight- to 25-foot range. A wide variety of jigging and live bait options produce fish. Some favorites are swimming lures like the Jigging Rapala and jigging spoons tipped with a minnow. A live minnow under a tip up can also be a good option.
For pike, the mouths of shallow, weedy bays with main lake deep water access are prime locations. For presentations, it is tough to beat a large (live or dead) baitfish on a quick strike rig under a tip up.
For lake trout, look for steep main lake drop-offs, ledges and saddles. Lakers follow the deep portions of these structures in search of food. A wide range of large jigging lures are the most widely implemented presentations.
For panfish, bluegills and crappies are commonly found in the same areas as the pike. Perch are often found in the same locations as walleye. In general, small minnows, spikes, wigglers and wax worms on teardrop jigs are good bets.
As an example to illustrate species-specific locations, a map of a Minnesota lake has been labeled with some likely spots. Before heading out on your next ice fishing adventure, check out this great resource for ice fishing locations and general information. Good luck!