My mid-winter fishing report

Now that we’re in the midst of ice-fishing season here in Sunset Country, it’s time for a fishing report.
I’ve been staying busy on the ice over the last couple weeks of January doing some guide trips and fishing with buddies.
I have be honest, I’m definitely looking forward to some warmer weather. But the fishing has been good so I won’t complain.
The cool thing about fishing with all kinds of different people is that everybody has their own favourite fish they want to catch, so I get to fish for a variety of species on multiple waters. In fact, I seldom fish the same spots twice in a week.
Generally, I spend quite a bit of time fishing new water and fall back on spots where I know I can catch fish if the bite is tough and we’re not catching anything. This allows me to find new spots, and every so often we’ll score and find something really good.
Over the past week, I spent time chasing crappies, lake trout, pike, whitefish, and walleyes. The following is a report on each.
Because of the cold temperatures last week, I spent a lot of my time sitting in my portable Frabill shelter with the heater on. I stayed warm but if you aren’t moving around hole-hopping, you aren’t covering as much water and usually this results in a few less catches because you’re waiting for the fish to come to you.
I relied on my hand-held GPS unit to put me right on top of spots where I’ve had success in the past—and was fortunate to find success again in most cases.
Crappie fishing on Lake of the Woods was pretty good. We fished some traditional, community holes and were lucky to have some schools of fish come through every half-hour or so.
By the end of the day, our numbers were pretty good.
I fished two artificial baits exclusively, and caught most of the fish that showed themselves on my Humminbird: a small Northland Forage Minnow spoon tipped with some artificial maggots and a Slurpies Panfish Tube.
The spoon is nice because it gets down to the fish quickly in deep water and catches most of them.
The tube, meanwhile, is a good follow-up bait for fish that may turn up their nose at the spoon.
Lake trout fishing was fair over the past couple of weeks. Numbers have been average, but size has been good!
I did not fish in the annual Crystal Harbour tournament on Regina Bay near Sioux Narrows, but catches there were the best they’ve seen in years. The winning fish was caught by Brad Godin and was a 23.44-pound monster!
It took at least a 16-pound fish to make the top five in this one-day event, which is some quality fishing!
Pike were the only species we really struggled with last week. I seldom target pike specifically until late in the ice season, but I often put out a tip-up rigged with a large cisco when I walleye fish and usually it will get hit a couple times per day.
I always just jig with one rod when I walleye fish and pass on having a set line (this keeps me legal for having a tip-up in the water).
We just couldn’t score on the pike last week. They either were “out to sea,” suspended in deep water, or up shallow in the weeds. We just didn’t run into any pattern with them on the traditional humps and shoals we fish for walleyes.
We did catch a few pike, but not the big fish that are common during the ice season.
They will get better in the coming weeks.
The whitefish were pretty good. We spent one afternoon chasing “whities” and they were active in 30-50 feet of water near sharp shoreline drop-offs.
Whitefish are the most under-utilized sport fish by Sunset Country anglers, but they exist in more waters than most people know. Any of the clear, relatively deep waters in the region have them.
Use small spoons, and tip them with artificial maggots or a minnow head.
Walleye fishing was absolutely fantastic last week—by far the best I’ve seen this season so far. We had great action for numbers of eating-size fish and had some catches of large fish, as well.
My friend, Jeff Anderson from Brainerd, Mn., caught a walleye that was the biggest I’ve ever seen come through the ice on Lake of the Woods.
The fish was released quickly but my buddy, Dave Bennett, estimated the size of this walleye to be around 12 pounds. It was a giant!
We were catching walleyes in 22-26 feet of water early and late in the day, and 28-32 feet during the mid-part of the day.
Northland Buck-Shot and Macho Minnow Spoons tipped with minnow heads were the ticket.

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