Early-season ice fishing offers lots of fun

While we haven’t experienced a lot of super cold weather so far, it has been cold in general for well over a month so all of the smaller bodies of water across Sunset Country are covered with ice.
The minimal amount of snow also has helped the ice to form nice and strong because there is no layer of insulation, which always is nice early in the winter season.
This all means there are some great ice-fishing opportunities out there for anglers eager to get a new season started.
As I mentioned, most of the smaller, shallower waters across the region have good ice for walking or ATV use. On the lakes that I’ve been on, there has been eight-10 inches of good, clear ice.
Some friends have reported the northern part of Lake of the Woods has six inches pretty consistently.
The deep, clear, lake trout waters are a different story, however. We needed one or two more really cold nights to freeze these up and it just didn’t happen, so most of the big “trout” water is not frozen yet.
Places like Clearwater and Whitefish Bay on Lake of the Woods, as well as Crow Lake, still are all wide open and likely need one good cold, calm night to cover them up.
Stay off of these types of waters until after Christmas at least!
If you’re going to go fishing at this time of year, stick to the smaller lakes and you can go have some fun. Stocked trout, crappie, and walleye fishing can be phenomenal at this time of year so your focus should be on these fish.
We are fortunate to have quite a few lakes around Kenora and Fort Frances that are stocked with brook trout, rainbow trout, and splake and the early ice season is the best time of the whole year to fish for these tasty fish.
For a list of which lakes are stocked with these trout, visit the Natural Resources FishON-line website, which shows where the lakes are and how many trout have been stocked in recent years. It’s a great tool for exploring waters around the region.
When it comes to fishing for these stocked trout, you want to fish surprisingly shallow. This means four-six feet of water, close to shoreline cover like beaver huts, logs, or rock outcroppings.
The fish cruise along the bank and find whatever little critters they can to eat. It could be small bugs, crustaceans, or minnows. For bait, I like to use small jigs tipped with a live minnow on a still line, then jig a small spoon tipped with some shrimp meat on a second line.
Feel free to keep a few of these fish, as well, because they don’t spawn and are delicious.
Crappie fishing usually is really good early in the season primarily because on many of the traditional hot spots, these fish have not been pressured a lot. Crappies typically use the same wintering locations year after year so when you get on some of these good spots before other anglers, there usually are a bunch of fresh crappies ready to bite.
Small spoons and jigs with small soft plastics are all you need to catch crappies under the ice.
Early-ice walleye fishing, meanwhile, is some of my favourite of the winter. But one thing I have learned is that they bite a lot better late in the day than they do during the middle of the day.
As such, I love heading out on the ice about two or three hours before dark, so I can get all set up and then take advantage of the that last hour of daylight, which we call “prime time.”
My walleye set-up is simple and I seldom use anything else. I use a quarter-ounce Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon tipped with a minnow head. On dark-coloured water, I like orange or gold colours while in clear water, I like white, glow-coloured spoons.
Take advantage of the great conditions we have on our smaller, shallower lakes right now and go have some fun on the ice.
Just remember to be careful out there and don’t take any chances!