Much like many Upper Midwest states, lakes known for good fishing during fair weather in Minnesota also rank high on the list for best ice-fishing lakes.
For this reason, if you fish some of these lakes during spring, summer or fall, you gain a little bit of a headstart once you decide to try ice fishing on the same waters. This proves important because when you talk about ice fishing in Minnesota, you are often talking about huge bodies of water.
Minnesota provides a steady diet for ice anglers—i.e., it offers solid ice on many of its lakes every winter, despite the huge expanses. Because of the state’s reputation among ice fishers, you can learn a lot from the many other anglers dotting your lake of choice.
Additionally, winter in Minnesota can offer bright sun and blue sky as well as winter wildlife. Bring your binoculars for some enjoyment between bites.
Migrating birds, such as Canadian geese and trumpeter swans, join year-round eagles and other raptors to provide a sideshow to for ice anglers. A host of mammals traverse snow and ice while leaving their tracks for anglers to identify (bring along your animal track guidebook!).
If you need some help with finding a destination in Minnesota where you can fully enjoy a day on the ice with rod and reel, try heading to one of the following best bets.
Top 7 Ice Fishing Lakes in Minnesota
Lake of the Woods
Just the name of this water smacks of hallmark fame. Its history of publicity in sportfishing magazines and TV shows goes practically unparalleled among its Midwest neighbors and mostly because of its pride and joy—walleyes.
However, variety and an abundance of multiple species drive many ice anglers to Lake of the Woods, boasting countless islands and 65,000 miles of shoreline. The most sought wintertime species include the walleye, northern pike, lake trout (mackinaw), crappies and muskies.
Though a mouthful, Winnibigoshish is a household name among Midwest anglers and particularly shines for family outings. Resorts and lodges ring its shoreline to serve as great resources for ice fishing tips and gear as well as timeouts for kids needing some snacks or hot cocoa.
Species such as perch and crappie provide young ones with enough action to keep them happy on ice. Other types of fish bound to bite beneath the ice of Winnibigoshish include walleyes and pike.
Upper Red Lake
The largest of Minnesota lakes, Upper Red is connected to Lower Red, but wins out as the best half of this big equation when ice covers this behemoth, located very near State Highway 72. Its claim to fame during other seasons—walleyes—attracts hordes of anglers to its ice in winter as well.
In fact, its fame for walleye fishing nearly depleted this species in the 1990s, but an effective recovery effort by state agencies and sportfishing organizations helped to reestablish Upper Red as one of the most productive walleye fisheries in the state.
Located near Winnibigoshish, Leech also provides plenty of action for the young or new angler to the sport of ice fishing—mostly because of its proliferant perch populations.
You can also catch walleyes, whose numbers are low enough to allow fish such as perch to evade predation. As the third largest lake in Minnesota, Leech gets very deep. Your best bet is to work the flats during ice season.
Fed by the Sauk River, this 2,100-acre lake provides ice anglers with plentiful numbers of perch, crappies and walleyes. Just off I-84 in central Minnesota, this long, sinuous lake lies within easy reach of all corners of the state.
Mille Lacs Lake
An hour-and-a-half drive north from Minneappolis, this shallow yet large lake (second largest in the state) freezes over well and early with an average depth range that never exceeds more than about 40 feet. Fortunately, its large variety of fish willing to bite in winter compensates for its tight walleye restrictions, which limit your catch to one a day.
Like Upper Red Lake, its popularity among walleye anglers spelled the species decline and subsequent catch limit. However, rock bass, northern pike, big perch, muskies and tullibee, which resembles a super-sized herring, pick up for the slack when it comes to action through the ice.
If you and your family or fishing partners seek winter’s natural splendor along with a good catch, Vermillion is your huckleberry. This 40,500-acre lake’s scenery and surrounding wildlife earn its high ranking among nature lovers.
When tacking on the bonus of great muskie, pike, bluegill, perch and even smallmouth bass fishing, Vermilion stands out as an ice-fishing destination around the Upper Midwest.
Final word on Ice Fishing in Minnesota
As you can gather, Minnesota lakes as a rule present a wide expanse of ice to cover—lakes are huge here. Bone up on them for purposes of knowing where you are and where the best fishing holes are located. Guidebooks and other ice anglers make for a good start to success on the ice as does the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
| Also interesting: Best Ice Fishing Spots in Wisconsin