Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing: An Angler's Guide

Jan 5, 2022 | 7 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Right at the tripoint of Ontario, Manitoba, and Minnesota, you’ll find the magnificent Lake of The Woods (LOW). After the Great Lakes, LOW is the biggest freshwater lake in the US, and it also has more shoreline than Lake Superior. All of this makes LOW a very productive fishing spot. During the winter, Lake of the Woods becomes one of the premier ice fishing locations in North America.

A view of an angler sitting alone on a frozen like with mountains in the back and snow covered trees on the right

Whether you’re after Walleye (the top catch of the lake), Northern Pike, Crappie, or Perch, Lake of the Woods has all of them on the winter menu. The ice thickens mid-December, and that’s when anglers flock to the lake in search of their favorite fish.

Top Three Ice Fishing Catches on Lake of the Woods

LOW holds a special place in the hearts of many fishers. Many of them travel across the country for a chance to reel in a trophy-sized fish. Fishing is open year-round but, depending on the season, some of the species are under strict regulations.

An angler holding a huge Northern Pike caught while ice fishing
That’s one big Northern Pike!

Before we go into details about top winter catches on the lake, we have to mention which species you can’t catch. Fishing for Sturgeon is closed between October and April, and throughout the month of June. Meanwhile, fishing for Muskies isn’t allowed from December through May. If you come across one, make sure to release them right away to avoid an uncomfortable situation or unnecessary fines.

Now that we’ve got those details out of our way, let’s find out what you can expect when ice fishing on Lake of The Woods.

Walleye – The Superstar of the Lake

If you’re traveling to fish for Walleye on LOW, you’re not alone. A number of anglers do this at all times of the year, but ice fishing for Walleye is a must-do if you want to experience the magic of the lake. But, why is Walleye so popular around these parts?

First of all, they love to eat, so it’s easy to get them to bite. Once they do, the real fun begins. They always put up a great fight and the best thing? They get pretty big around here.

Angler in a blue jacket standing on ice holds a Walleye he caught.
Walleye is the superstar of the lake.

We’re talking about some record catches. When it comes to their average size, Walleye range between 15 and 18 inches. But if you’re fishing on LOW, it’s not so uncommon to come across a 25″ specimen, and even bigger.

They weigh usually somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds, but here you might come across a Walleye twice as big. Limits for Walleye change seasonally, so make sure you’ve checked the most up-to-date information.

Sauger – Walleye’s Smaller Cousin

LOW is also home to Walleye’s smaller cousin, Sauger. These two are very similar and are often mistaken for one another. To make the distinction even harder, they eat the same food, so whatever you use for Walleye will work for Sauger too. However, Saugers are a lot smaller, and they have different markings. Their average size is 15 inches, and they usually follow Walleye around.

A Sauger lying on the ice
It’s not a Walleye!

If you’re targeting Walleye and catch a Sauger, don’t be discouraged. This is actually a great sign. Where there’s one of them, you’ll probably find the other one too!

You’re probably wondering how to tell a Sauger apart from Walleye. The best way to do so is by their markings. Saugers have black dots on their fins, but they’re missing black patches behind their dorsal fins, which Walleye have.

If you’re still not sure how to tell them apart, check out this article that will tell you all you need to know about their differences.

There are many great ice fishing spots for both Walleye and Sauger on Lake of the Woods. Some of the most popular hunting grounds are Northwest Angle, South Shore, Kenora, Witch Bay, Franz Jevne State Park, Clearwater Bay, Sioux Narrows, and Traverse Bay.

Northern Pike

Next to Walleye and Sauger, ice fishing for Northern Pike is the next big thing on the lake. For anglers looking for an acrobatic show and a feisty fighter, Pike fishing on LOW is the thing to do.

Not only that, but they grow really big around here. Catches that surpass 40 inches and weigh more than 20 pounds have been reported previously. Every angler can dream about a catch this big.

For those who aren’t so lucky to come across a monster Pike, most of your catch will probably range between 2 and 5 pounds. Don’t worry though, they’ll still fight for every inch of your line.

Northern Pike peaking through the hole in the ice
Every angler would be thrilled to see a Pike peeking through his ice hole.

Locals suggest using dead bait if you’re chasing a trophy, but you can also try your luck with live bait. Whatever you choose as your lure, make sure to buy it from a bait shop that’s certified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This precaution prevents contaminating the lake with unknown diseases. 

If Pike is your main target, areas like Fourmile Bay, Muskeg Bay, Baudette Bay, and Zippel Bay that have a sandy or muddy bottom are your go-to spots.

Fishing Season and Conditions

Ice fishing is a very popular activity around the entire lake. Thanks to this, there are many fishing guides and resorts in almost every small town. As the ice starts to thicken, more and more anglers come to visit the area.

When the ice fishing season reaches its peak, sometime in January, you’ll see hundreds of ice shacks scattered across the lake, and anglers drilling new holes in search of their next big catch.

A tent and an ice drill on a frozen lake
You can also bring your tent, but ice shacks are way more cozy.

Depending on the weather, the season will start around mid-December, and last until March. For ice angling to be safe, the ice cover needs to be at least 15 inches thick.

The Best Ice Fishing Techniques on Lake of the Woods

If you’re targeting Walleye and Sauger, the best time of the day to catch them is just after sunrise or before the sunset when they come out looking for tasty treats. When it comes to the best techniques, anglers say that they’ve had the best success with jigging minnows and using rattle baits.

Besides Walleye and Sauger, you might also come across a Whitefish, Yellow Perch, or Crappie from time to time.

For anglers who want to catch Pike, dark house spearing can be an interesting technique to try out. You’ll have to drill a big hole in the ice so that you can see the fish coming closer to your lure. Then, you’ll go into a completely dark ice shack, and stay calm. From here, you’ll keep your eye on the lure and wait for massive Pike to get closer.

An ice shack on the Lake of the Woods
The perfect place to stay warm when ice fishing – a heated ice shack.

As soon as they do, you’ll come out of hiding and spear the fish. While this technique can be very fun and rewarding, it also requires plenty of skill and patience.

If you’re not sure where to go or which type of technique to use, you can always consider hiring a local guide that will show you a good time on the lake. Guides usually provide equipment including a heated ice shack, transportation, and valuable tips.

Getting a Fishing License

A picture of a badge with words Fishing License on it

The waters of the LOW are shared by two countries and three states/provinces. The biggest portion of the lake is within Ontario’s borders, a good part of it lies in Minnesota, and a small portion belongs to Manitoba. Local charters, as a rule, don’t provide fishing licenses. However, if you’re not sure what you’ll need for your fishing trip, guides can help you figure out which documents you’ll need.

For anglers from the US who plan to fish on the Minnesota side of the lake, you can buy a license online. However, if you want to fish in Ontario, you’ll probably need a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit, an Ontario non-resident fishing license, and an Outdoors Card.

Anglers from Canada who plan to fish the Canadian side of the lake will need an Ontario fishing license and an Outdoors Card.

Keeping Your Catch

A Walleye caught while ice fishing
We know you want to keep this beauty!

When you plan to go fishing on Lake of the Woods, it’s very important to stay updated on the designated limits. These regulations tend to change very often, sometimes even within the same year. Some fish can be under strict catch-and-release regulations in one month, but the next month you might be able to harvest them.

Additionally, the amount you’re allowed to keep also depends on the type of license you have – a Conservation License or Sport License. You can check the latest updates on these websites to avoid fines and uncomfortable situations:

It’s Time to Plan Your Lake of the Woods Ice Fishing Adventure

Lake of the Woods is a paradise for ice anglers. Now that you also know how magical LOW is, you can understand where they’re coming from. If you decide to try your hand at ice fishing, there are many guides that will show you the ropes and put you on some big fish.

A kid sitting on a chair next a hole in the ice holding a fishing pole
You can bring your kids, too.

However, if you think that ice fishing isn’t really your thing, you can consider visiting the lake at some other time of the year. Fishing on Lake of the Woods is on fire, no matter what time of the year you decide to visit.

Have you ever fished the Lake of the Woods? What’s your favorite catch? Do you have some tips for first-time anglers? Share your advice and fun stories in the comments below!

Comments (4)
  • niko

    Jan 7, 2022

    me and my dad fish on the rainy river for walleyes

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      Marko

      Jan 10, 2022

      Hi Niko,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The Rainy River definitely deserves a mention, it’s great for fishing no matter the time of the year.

      Hope them Walleyes keep biting!

      Tight lines,

      Marko

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  • DJ Anders

    Jan 4, 2022

    This is not a criticism, but an observation. The fish labeled as a walleye on this is not a walleye. It’s the first (and maybe only) example I’ve ever seen of a hybrid between what is likely a yellow perch and a sauger. It truly is a remarkable picture considering how unusual it probably is. So unusual in fact, that I’ve book marked the page and copied to image. Cool!

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      Vuk

      Jan 5, 2022

      Hi DJ,

      You definitely have a keen eye for detail, thanks for getting in touch! In the interest of accuracy, we’ve now replaced the image. Hope you found the rest of the article useful.

      Tight lines,
      Vuk

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