Fishing Lake of the Woods: All You Need to Know

Mar 12, 2021 | 11 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 11 minutes

If you’re looking for a vast body of water to explore and countless angling opportunities to enjoy, then fishing on Lake of the Woods should be your next adventure! This impressive watershed has more shoreline than Lake Superior, and after the Great Lakes, it’s the biggest freshwater lake in the US.

A view of the Lake of the Woods and a boat in the distance
Lake of the Woods is one of those fisheries that just keeps on giving.

With over 14,000 islands, Lake of the Woods (LOW) puts a new perspective on fishing. You’ll find LOW right on the tripoint of Minnesota, Ontario, and Manitoba, and each of these states is known for its superb action on the water. Whether you’re coming for some ice fishing excitement or conventional fishing fun, Lake of the Woods will change your life.

Lake of the Woods Top Catches

For passionate anglers, going to LOW is like kids going to a candy store – the excitement is real! The lake’s waters are teeming with freshwater superstars and trophy-sized catches are frequent. Fishing is open all year, but bear in mind that some species are under strict regulations. If you’re a first-timer, there are fishing resorts all over the lake’s extensive shoreline to help you find your way.

Let’s talk about all the beautiful fish that you could find on your line. From feisty Walleye, jumbo Yellow Perch, Northern Pike, Crappie, and Musky to Bass and Lake Sturgeon, the lake boasts something for every caliber of angler.

Here’s a short overview of what you can expect.

The Tale of the Mighty Walleye

Two smiling anglers holding two large Walleye

The lion’s share of anglers come to LOW to find their next Walleye record. These hard-fighting fish are by far the most popular catch on the lake and usually the main target. Angling action is incredible year-round and in the winter, Walleye ice fishing is THE thing to do. Limits for both Walleye and Sauger change seasonally, so it’s crucial to be in the loop about these changes.

These fish love to eat, always put up a strong fight, and the best part is, there are some real whoppers out there. The average Walleye usually ranges from 15–18 inches, but you can easily hook specimens pushing 25 inches and more. When it comes to weight, anything from 2–5 pounds is typical, but you can find hogs in the double digits.

If you’re coming to LOW to target Walleye, the setup you use will largely depend on the season. Local anglers often make a distinction between lake Walleye and river Walleye. While lake Walleye stay in the vast lake waters their entire lives, river Walleye are more adventurous. These guys follow their food (minnows) to the Rainy River, then return to the lake.

Springtime offers not only fantastic Walleye fishing, but also fair weather and beautiful scenery as your backdrop. You can find your prey around sandy areas in shallow waters, looking for their next meal. As they’re preparing to spawn, Walleye won’t be able to resist live bait, and trolling leeches on the bottom is a recipe for success.

Come summer, Walleye will move to deeper waters (20–35 feet) to hang out around reefs and areas with rock bottom. This is the time to get your plug baits out and use gold spinners, also known as Walleye magnets. By the end of August, you can find Walleye at the mouth of the Rainy River, usually close to the Lighthouse Gap.

A Few Words About Sauger…

A fisherman holding a Sauger
(Wildlife142, NRCS Montana, CC PDM 1.0)

When it comes to Sauger, another abundant LOW fish, they’re often mistaken for their cousin Walleye, though Sauger are significantly smaller. They average out at 15 inches and usually follow Walleye around, so where there’s one, you’ll find the other.

The best way to tell a Sauger from a Walleye is by their markings. Sauger have black dots on their fins. However, they’re missing black patches behind their dorsal fins, which Walleye have. In general, Sauger aren’t as nomadic as Walleye and prefer to spawn in the lake. When it comes to setups, whatever you use for Walleye works for Sauger because their diet and temperaments are similar.

There are countless terrific Walleye and Sauger fishing spots on Lake of the Woods. Some of the most popular and productive spots include Northwest Angle, South Shore, Kenora, Witch Bay, Franz Jevne State Park, Clearwater Bay, Sioux Narrows, and Traverse Bay.

Let’s Talk About Northern Pike

Two anglers posing with a big Northern Pike with Lake of the Woods in the background

Walleye might be all the craze on LOW, but the superb Northern Pike is just as enticing and promising. The lake is full of these toothy fellas that can surpass 40 inches and weigh over 20 pounds. Not only are they big, but they fight like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re looking for acrobatic leaps and a stubborn fighter, Pike fishing on Lake of the Woods will not disappoint.

You can target Pike all year, and locals claim that the best time to target them is in early spring. This is when they’re preparing to spawn, which makes them very aggressive, not to mention ravenous. Most of your catch will probably be in the 2–5 lb range, but they’ll fight you relentlessly for every inch of the line.

When we talk about Pike fishing, the old, but gold – big bait attracts big fish – works like a charm. If you’re chasing a trophy, locals suggest using dead bait, but live bait can also attract something bragworthy. Whatever your choice, be sure to buy your bait from a bait shop certified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This is a precaution that prevents the contamination of the lake with unknown diseases.

You’ll find your prey in shallow waters, wherever there are underwater structures with muddy or sandy bottom. Bays are Pike’s preferred habitat, so areas like Fourmile Bay, Muskeg Bay, Baudette Bay, and Zippel Bay are all excellent fishing spots. When they’re spawning, Pike like to hang out near streams and back sloughs. Make sure that they spot your offering, gulp it down, and then it’s time for a Pike fight!

A Bass Surprise

A smiling fisherman holding a Smallmouth Bass with blue skies in the background

One of the main reasons why Canadian freshwater anglers love Lake of the Woods is Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass. This is one of the best places in Southern Canada where you can go Bass fishing and have a very productive trip.

Look for Bass in the waters that are about 10–20 feet deep, around reefs and rocky structures, where soft muddy bottom is prevalent. You can find both Smallies and Largemouth in all parts of the lake, as well as at the mouth of the Rainy River, close to Baudette, MN.

Bass spawn in spring months, for which they prefer shallow waters around the shore. After spawning, as the water gets warmer, Bass hang around rock piles, where they can ambush their food. This is an excellent time for jigging leeches or using crankbaits, but soft jerk baits will also do the trick. During the fall, Bass like to hide in parts of the lake with a lot of vegetation.

Bass hotspots are too many to count, but some of the best ones include Rocky Point, Clementson Rapids, and Traverse Bay. Here, you can find Smallies and Largemouth Bass that aren’t that common to find in this part of Canada, which only makes them more fun to catch.

LOW is rich in Bass and the fishery is open all year, though regulations change from state to state. There are parts of the year when Bass is exclusively catch and release, which allows for these beauties to thrive. This, in turn, attracts anglers from both the US and Canada to come out here and test their Bass luck.

Add Some Musky for Good Measure

A smiling fisherman with his catch, a massive Musky

Another species in LOW stardom is monster Musky. These temperamental fellas can be found anywhere from Kenora to Whitefish Bay and they’re a lot of fun to catch. Though fishing for them is strictly regulated, that doesn’t limit the exhilaration of having a Musky on your line.

Musky fishing usually starts in late June and anglers love to gather for the season-opening. Around this time, you’ll find Musky aficionados prowling shallow bay waters with a lot of weeds floating around – the known hideout of jumbo Muskies.

They also like to lie low in narrow spaces between islands, which might be a bit difficult to navigate, but worth the effort. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a 30 lb giant. Bear in mind that Musky fishing is mostly catch and release. This is because these fish need well over a decade to reach their full size. It’s important to treat them with great care and put them back into the water as soon as possible.

Another very important factor for Musky fishing is weather – the bite is usually best on cloudy days, when the barometric pressure is lower. Some of the favorite treasure troves are Northwest Angle, Big Island, Monument Bay, and the lesser-known Steven’s Bay.

Did Someone Say Sturgeon?

An angler standing in the water with a Lake Sturgeon under the water's surface

For freshwater anglers looking to fight a monster it doesn’t get better than Sturgeon fishing. Lake of the Woods has a healthy population of Lake Sturgeon that come in all shapes and sizes. They’re usually 20–50 inches long and can weigh around 35 pounds, but you can find gigantic specimens that weigh hundreds of pounds.

Sturgeon are abundant in the Rainy River, because they’ve got plenty of food and optimal living conditions. This is why the best area to target these prehistoric fish is Fourmile Bay, right next to the river’s mouth. These waters hide massive fish and you’ll need strong gear to fight them and get them close to the boat.

Lake Sturgeon will not give in lightly when they’re hooked, and their torpedo shape gives them agility and speed. When you do win the battle, be extra careful handling the fish. They have plates (scutes) instead of scales which can be very sharp, so using gloves when picking them up is highly recommended. If you want to measure your catch, calm it down by putting a wet towel over its head to minimize harm.

The seasons for Sturgeon fishing are determined every year and split between the free harvest and catch-and-release periods. It’s crucial to know what rules apply when you’re going on a Sturgeon hunt, so make sure you’re well-informed.

Types of Fishing on Lake of the Woods

Whether you decide to go fishing on your own or hire a professional guide, you’ll enjoy the immense fishing opportunities that LOW has to offer. Most of the lake’s hotspots aren’t reachable from shore, which is why boat fishing is so popular. Another perk we have to mention about Lake of the Woods is its spectacular ice fishing.

Here’s what you can expect on LOW even when there are inches of ice between you and your catch.

Ice Fishing: The Favorite Winter Pastime

A Walleye caught while ice fishing

With December comes the time to dust off your ice fishing equipment and hit the lake for some first-class action. The ice should be at least 15 inches thick to be safe for your angling escapades. Depending on the weather, there’s plenty of safe ice by mid-December, and things only get better as time goes by. The season is usually open until March, weather permitting.

Because this is such a popular pastime both in Minnesota and southern Canada, there are plenty of guides and resorts that cater to passionate ice fishermen. Mid-season, you’ll see hundreds of ice shacks on the ice and anglers drilling holes, looking for their next big fish.

Just like during the rest of the year, ice fishing for Walleye is nothing short of incredible. These hungry fish don’t stop feeding in winter, and you’ll often find them in 25–30 feet of water. The bite is usually best just after sunrise and around sunset. Jigging minnows and using rattle baits could land you your limit.

But Walleye are just the beginning – Sauger, Whitefish, Yellow Perch, Crappie, and Northern Pike are all in the cards. Fishing for Pike is very popular, especially if you’re in the mood to try dark house spearing. For this particular method, you’ll wait for your lure to attract massive Pike in a completely dark ice shack. You’ll need to drill a big hole in the ice, so that you can spot the fish and spear it when it comes close. This technique is exciting and can be rewarding, but it also requires some skill and patience.

Whether you’re in the mood for a relaxing day on the ice or you’re a thrill-seeker, LOW is the right place for you. For any help you need, turn to professional local guides who know all the safest ice paths, as well as the most productive spots. They usually provide all the necessary equipment, heated ice shacks, transportation, and advice.

If you want to get your adrenaline pumping and you love cold weather, ice fishing is as good as it gets.

Fishing on Your Own

An angler fishing from shore, holding a bending rod

With its thousands of islands, navigating Lake of the Woods might look like a daunting task, but it’s possible. If you’re coming here for the first time, starting out in towns dotted along its shores is a good way to go.

Kenora is one of the more popular destinations for solo anglers. It’s located in the southwest of Ontario province, at the very heart of the lake. Local anglers who don’t have a boat love to fish from Norman Park and Anicinabe Park. Both spots hold good numbers of Walleye and Bass, and have docks that are popular haunts of fishermen.

Nestor Falls is another popular location, especially if remote fishing is your thing. The town is very well connected to Minnesota and you can fly in whenever your fishing desire kicks in.

There are enough little towns and resorts on Lake of the Woods to write a book about them, and Kenora, Nestor Falls, Morson, and Sioux Narrows are just a drop in the sea. Make sure to do your research before you head out to ensure the best possible time on these gorgeous waters.

Fishing on a Charter

An elderly angler fishing from the prow of the boat

If you decided to make your life easier and hire a fishing guide, it’s time to make a choice. Lake of the Woods fishing charters are as numerous as the islands in the lake, and your choice depends on different factors. Where you’re coming from, what you’d like to catch, and how long you’d like to fish are all the questions you should answer before booking a trip.

Guides usually offer a variety of trips of different lengths, so there’s something for all levels of anglers. You can easily book accommodation in lodges and cabins if you plan on staying for several days. Sometimes food and pickup is included in the price, but double-check the details with your host.

While LOW guides usually provide all the gear, it’s up to you to bring appropriate clothing and, if necessary, food and drinks. You’ll also need to take care of your own fishing license, which is normally not a part of the package.

The beauty of fishing with professionals is that you don’t have to worry about stretching yourself too thin. With a charter, you’ll explore more hotspots, learn about local angling practices, and have a well-organized fishing getaway.

Rules and Regulations on Lake of the Woods

A happy angler holding a big Muskellunge
If you’re coming to hook a trophy, make sure you follow all the rules and regulations.

Seeing that the waters of LOW are shared by three states/provinces, figuring out fishing regulations can be, well, tricky. Most of the lake is within Ontario borders, though a good part of it lies in Minnesota, with a small portion belonging to Manitoba.

Even though local charters, as a rule, don’t provide fishing licenses, they can help you figure out what documentation you need. If you’re from the US and plan to fish on the Minnesota side of the lake, you can easily buy a license online. If you’re a US citizen and want to fish in Ontario, you might need a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit, an Ontario non-resident fishing license, as well as an Outdoors Card.

It’s also important to stay updated on the designated limits, because they have a tendency to change often, sometimes even within the same year. Some fish have both a harvest and a catch-and-release season in one calendar year. The amount of fish you’re allowed to keep also depends on the type of license you choose – Conservation License or Sport License. Make sure you’re familiar with the rules and regulations to avoid fines and uncomfortable situations.

Lake of the Woods and All Its Riches

A view of the Lake of the Woods from the water

Lake of the Woods is every angler’s promised land. Coming here is equally exciting for novices going after their limit and seasoned pros who are all about trophy catches. Want to go fishing in winter? No problem, ice fishing here will make for a fantastic adventure.

With its untouched nature and areas with crystal clear water, the lake will quickly become a spot you’ll want to return to. Once you try fishing on Lake of the Woods, your angling standards will never be the same.

Have you been fishing on Lake of the Woods? Do you have any advice? Are there any fun stories you like telling? We love to hear from you, so share your experiences in the comment section!

Comments (2)
  • Tom Emard

    Dec 26, 2020

    I was born in Thief River Falls and fished the lakes in Minnesota for several years with my relatives. The Lake of the woods is huge and full of fish. I have fished all over the world and never had as much success as Minnesota waters!

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      Dec 28, 2020

      Hi Tom,

      We couldn’t agree more! Lucky you for having the chance to fish it so often.

      Wishing you a happy holiday season and here’s to a lot more fishing in 2021!

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