Outdoors: Big plans for early ice

by Ron Anlauf
Contributing columnist

A late fall trip to the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods left me wishing for ice. It was the 20 mph northwest winds, the intermittent snow squalls and slower than normal walleye fishing that did it.

The author knows that early ice on Lake of the Woods can mean plenty of nice walleyes like this. Submitted photo

Instead of being out in an open boat freezing our tails off, we could have been inside a nice heated portable shack warm as toast and probably catching fish.

Having been to the Baudette area for quite a few early season ice fishing excursions my crew and I have figured where to go, what to do and have a good idea that we’re going to be doing some serious pole bending.

Most of the early trips have been absolutely phenomenal, although we have had a couple years where the bite was a little off.

It was still much better than just about anywhere else you could go, just slow in comparison.

Most of the early action takes place on the main lake side of Pine Island and its actually pretty easy fishing.

You can stay in one of the resort houses and catch a bunch of fish or you can do what we do and use portables towed by ATV or snowmobile and catch even more.

By being mobile you can stay with the most active bite which typically starts shallow (14 to 16 feet or so) and slides deeper by midday. The reverse occurs later in the afternoon and the hottest action moves up in shallower water and peaks just before dark. That last hour or so can be just plain wild and is worth sticking around for. Big fish, big keepers, two fish on at the same time it all adds up to pandemonium and is a real hoot.

Jigging spoons like the Northland Buckshot are the preferred baits for early ice and account more than their share of walleyes and sauger. Take an eight-ounce buckshot, tip it with the head or tail of an emerald shiner and drop it to the bottom and start jigging. If you’re watching the spoon on a depth finder you’ll soon know if you’re on fish. They’ll show up and at least take a look and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so. Any longer without any lookers and you have to make a move deeper or shallower.

I’ve always been a flasher man which started years ago when I jerry rigged a Humminbird Super 60 for ice fishing, but I’m going to change it up this year. Instead of the flasher type I’ll be watching the action on a ‘Bird Ice 597ci which has an LCD display with a color flasher mode and includes GPS that can display a high definition map. It’s a super sweet, super powerful combination and I really can’t wait to put it to work.

There’s plenty of great places to stay in the area; Sportsman’s, WigWam, Adrian’s and Ballard’s, just to name a few. On our last late fall trip we stayed with Rivebend (1-800-292-3084) which has new owners and found the accommodations and service to be excellent and would definitely stay with them again.

See you on the ice.

Ron Anlauf is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.