Grand Rapids is known for premiere Ice Fishing in Minnesota. With close to a 1,000 lakes in Itasca County there is an abundance of opportunity for catching fish on ice.
We want to make sure that you use caution when heading out on area lakes. Early in the season (November into December) the ice is still forming. When is ice safe for ice fishing? That is a tough question to answer because there are so many factors. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “you can’t judge the strength of ice just by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. Strength is based on all these factors — plus the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, the distribution of the load on the ice, and local climatic conditions.” Use caution when heading out on frozen waterways, and check out the MN DNR Ice Safety Resource Page before heading out. And remember, there is no ice that is truly safe. We suggest bringing a set of ice picks with you at all times when on the ice.
Ice Fishing Equipment
Ice Fishing in Minnesota can be a relatively inexpensive sport. You will need the basics:
o Minnesota Fishing License can purchase at most bait shops and area gas stations or Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
o Ice auger (manual or electric)
o Ice pick or chisel (used to check thickness of ice and to keep ice holes open)
o Ice scoop (to remove ice from hole and sometimes can be helpful in getting fish out of hole – saves your fingers)
o Ice fishing rod & reel
o Bait (check with local bait shop’s)
o Bait system – jigs, lures, tips-ups: and remember you can only have 2 lines per person according to Minnesota regulations.
o Warm clothing and boots
o Hand warmers to put in gloves, mittens, boots and inside your jacket or snow pants.
o Something to sit on (small stool, easy to carry chair, or even a bucket with a lid – comes in handy to hold all equipment). Also bring a boat cushion to sit on and it can also be used as a flotation device that could save your life.
o Snacks & refreshments – Packing a few granola bars and water is a good idea.
o Flashlight (nice to have in case you stay out longer than expected)
o Tape measure – used to ensure the fish you caught you can keep in accordance to Minnesota Fishing Regulations, and nice to have when you want to brag when you catch the trophy.
Advanced Ice Fishing Equipment Checklist (things nice to have):
o Fish House – portable units are nice to transport out onto the ice and be mobile. They act as a nice place to store your ice fishing gear. With the influx of large wheel houses it gives the angler the capability of comfort, multiple angler participation, and most often not having to remove the structure from the ice every day. Make sure you check with the MN Department of Natural Resources for licensing of permanent ice houses.
o Heater – small portable units are reasonable in price and come in a variety of styles and heating potentials.
o Motorized Transportation – Most times early in the ice fishing season it is easy to walk out onto the ice. Later in the season the snow can get deep and motorized transport is nice to have. Four wheelers can be used when there is little or no snow, and if you add a plow to the front it helps you access on and off the lake. Snowmobiles will assist when the snow gets too high for four-wheeler transportation. These types of equipment are lighter in weight than a vehicle, but still use caution when traveling in any motorized unit. In winter conditions slush can be a problem so make sure you keep on an eye for unforeseen problems.
o Electronics – There are several different choices on the market. To satisfy your needs while ice fishing most often a quality flasher unit is acceptable. If you want to go one step beyond then there are electronic units available that have GPS and mapping included.
Minnesota Fishing Regulations
Before you head out to fish, we suggest that you become familiar with the Minnesota Fishing regulations and species closures. It is important when fishing in the winter to pay close attention to the MN DNR regulations book on what species has a protected slot.
Tom Neustrom, MN Fishing Guide (MN Fishing Connections), and Fishing Professional with: Rapala, Hummingbird, Otter, Strike Master, VMC Lures, Sufix Line and Tuned-UP Customized Ice Rods.
Early Season Ice
Many ice anglers pursue species that they were angling for prior to freeze up. It gives them an approximate idea where fish are gong to be located when they venture out on the ice. There are several categories of fish that are available to ice fisherman and they seem to be characterized into two categories: walleyes and northern pike are fished quite a bit than the panfish family. Walleyes and Northern pike are fished with larger baits and the tackle is a little heavier than what you would use for panfish. Times of the day for the predators can be crucial in being successful. Unless the water has turbidity then the walleyes, especially, will usually bite late in the day. Northern pike can be caught throughout the daytime hours and it a popular species for anglers to pursue.
When chasing panfish early in the winter remember to use lighter tackle. Two to four pound monofilament line is essential in attracting soft bites that occur while panfishing. Rods and reels will be lighter and a softer action will telegraph bites to the panfish angler on a regular basis. Ice fishing baits as light as 1/64 of an ounce are sometimes used so again it is essential to have light tackle and line. Panfish tend to be attracted to larvae type baits for that is usually the substance of their diet. Many anglers tend to fish for panfish in the winter because once a school is located the action can be fast and furious. Panfish tend to bite better during the day than some of the predator species.
Whatever species of fish you pursue in the winter, check with your local bait shops to see what is biting and where. They can also be great sources of information to what the ice conditions are on the area lakes.