Lake of the Woods, sometimes called the Walleye capital of the world, is the largest freshwater lake in the United States after the Great Lakes. It is also one of the best ice fishing lakes in Minnesota.
Frequented by anglers in mid-December or early January when the ice is at its thickest, Lake of the Woods offers over 65,000 miles of spectacular shoreline, trophy fish, and you can find a great ice fishing package during the winter. Rent a cabin, stay at a lodge or on the lake in an ice house (sometimes called a fish house or a sleeper)–whatever is to your comfort.
While Walleye is the catch of the lake and many travel across the country for it, other popular fish include Northern Pike, Sauger, and Perch.
Interestingly, Lake of the Woods is so large it is only partly in the U.S. state of Minnesota. It mostly occupies the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.
Species to Catch
Below you will find the most popular catches on the lake and some essential details on them. Note that lodges will be less busy midweek, and you can perhaps get better rates than on the weekend.
Walleye gets its name from its opaque, cloudy-looking and big eyes. It has a long body and is primarily gold and olive in color. These are a favorite for ice anglers to target.
It would be pretty hard to fish on Lake of the Woods and not bring in a Walleye. These are rather big, glutinous fish (averaging between 15-20 inches) that will chomp down on your bate and put up a good fight.
A Sauger is quite similar to Walleye as it is a very active fish that loves to bite. However, it is not as big and has different markings. One dead giveaway that it’s a Sauger and not a Walleye are the black dots in the fin. There are usually very high numbers of Sauger in the lake, so you can fish for them to your heart’s content!
Walleye and Sauger often go hand in hand, so if you find a Walleye, a Sauger is not too far behind.
The Northern Pike can grow up to 40 inches long and weigh more than 20 pounds. This is a big fish. They are strong fighters too and present a challenge for even more advanced ice fishers. You can find these feisty guys in many areas around the lake, but mostly in bays.
Perch average between 9-12 inches, are small compared to other popular fish in the lake, and make for a delicious meal. The best time of year to fish for these yellow fish at Lake of the Woods is in the warmer, winter months of late February and March or early Spring. They will eagerly take your worm and are appropriate for children to catch.
Ice Fishing Techniques and Tips
The best time to fish and what techniques to use all depends on what fish you are targeting.
If you want to catch a Walleye or Sauger, it’s best to fish for them at dusk or dawn. We suggest using jigging minnows and rattle baits. Find them in many places on the lake such as Northwest Angle, South Shore, Kenora, Clearwater Bay, Traverse Bay, or Sioux Narrows.
If you want to catch a Northern Pike, specifically a large one, we suggest using dead bait. Find them in areas that have sandy or muddy bottoms such as Zippel Bay, Fourmile Bay, Muskeg Bay, and Baudette Bay.
Finally, if you want to catch perch, you will only need to use a worm or small minnow. You will notice they tend to school with the Walleye.
You can choose to fish using different types of gear based on your preferences and the conditions.
Tip up: The tip up is a classic ice fishing method. The equipment has a flag that pops up if a fish bites and pulls the line enough to release the strike indicating flag. These are great if you are fishing on multiple holes that are spaces out.
Jigging rod: If you fish one hole or in an ice house shelter, you probably want to jig with bait or lures using a special ice fishing rod and reel. These are much shorter than conventional rods due to the short distance and lack of space fishing into a small hole.
Season and Conditions
Lake of the Woods is a popular destination all year round. However, as the ice starts to thicken in mid-December, more and more anglers come to visit the area. Come January, you will see hundreds of fish houses scattered across the lake. Expect the season to end in March as the weather warms up again.
Planning a Trip to Lake of the Woods
If you’re planning a trip to Lake of the Woods, then you’ll definitely want to know about lodging, how to access the lake, and if you should hire a guide.
Resorts and Sleepers
There are over 50 resorts, sleeper services, cabins, and hotels in Lake of the Woods County. So whether you’re looking for the convenience and adventure of an ice house or something a little more extravagant like a full-service resort, there is definitely lodging for you. Please see the most popular lodging and what they have to offer below.
Dale’s on Lake of the Woods
6782 Gull Rock Rd NW, Roosevelt, MN 56673, United States
Dale’s, created by a dedicated fisherman, offers clean, comfortable ice houses for rent at reasonable prices. Choose to rent for the day or spend a few nights. Also available are RV campsites with full hook-ups, lakeshore pergolas, campfire areas, a shower house, and a new fish cleaning house.
River Bend’s Resort & Walleye Inn
803 Main St W, Baudette, MN 56623, United States
Family owned and operated, this outdoor oasis is an ideal vacation spot to reconnect with nature and fish to your heart’s content. Many are drawn to this multi-property destination for its modern amenities and dining hall. Let a guide show you how to walleye fish with the best of ‘em. Looking for a more adventurous ice fishing experience? Check out one of the fish house packages and sleep on the lake with the fish.
Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort
6760 Rocky Point Rd NW, Roosevelt, MN 56673, United States
Outdoorsmen (and women) who never want to get off the lake will love Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort! During its ice fishing season, which runs until mid-April, you can rent overnight ice houses and get the ultimate ice fishing experience. You can bet on catching lots, too, as guides use the LakeMaster MCC GPS chip to position the ice houses on exactly the right spot.
3298 Cyrus Rd NW, Baudette, MN 56623, United States
Cyrus Resort offers the perfect blend of activities and comfort year-round. Check out their ice fishing packages which offer bait, transportation to and from the heated fish house, fish cleaning, and fish packaging. If the fish aren’t biting, enjoy an outdoor pool, playground, full restaurant and bar, cabins, and nearby golf course. Guests of Cyrus Resort may submit their Lake of the Woods ice fishing photos for the “Winter Wall of Fame”.
Angle Outpost Resort
8206 Dawson Road NW, Box 128 • Angle Inlet, MN 56711
Angle Outpost Resort, home of Red Fox Ice Fishing Company, is a secluded settlement that offers a full-service vacation. All cabins have a beautiful view of the water and are close to the on-site marina. Alternatively, choose a heated ice house and sleep on the lake. Receive bait, heated transportation, and advice and information from the area’s top guides.
3314 Bur Oak Rd NW, Baudette, MN 56623, United States
Ballard’s is a full-service resort that provides heated ice houses, transportation, comfortable cabins, and delicious meals. Many choose Ballard’s because of how kid-friendly it is. In fact, for the winter of 2021, it will be offering its regular ice fishing packages at a 50% rate for kids 12 and under. Enjoy the weekend with your kids at Ballard’s.
Rainy River: 3244 Bur Oak Rd NW, Baudette, MN 56623, United States
Oak Island: 820 Oak Island, MN 56741, United States
Eagle Ridge: #2 Bobbies Bay, Oak Island, MN 56741, United States
Sportsman’s, which has three locations, is known for its great service and friendly people. Enjoy the indoor pool, full-service fishing trips, great restaurants, and live entertainment. The Ice Fishing Adventure is available from early December through the end of March and includes a heated ice house, transportation, bait, and a ton more.
You can access the lake through ice roads. Travel is available through heated trucks/vans. However, you will have to buy an access pass, which costs a small fee. The resorts at Lake of the Woods go to great efforts to provide ice roads and give you the necessary information about them. These roads are safe and smooth, as regular patrols and plowing keep them clear.
Hiring a Fishing Guide
If you’re a first-time ice fisher and don’t know where to go or what techniques to use, a guide would definitely be helpful on your Lake of the Woods ice fishing trip. Guides will transport you to and from the lake, help you with your equipment, give you valuable tips, and monitor you throughout the day making sure you are comfortable and catching fish. Rates for a guide will cost between $200 to $350 per day and may be included in ice fishing packages.
Fishing Licenses and Regulations
To ice fish on Lake of the Woods, you will need a Minnesota fishing license, which can be purchased online here, or alternatively, you can call 888-MN-LICEN (665-4236). However, if you want to fish in Ontario, that’s an entirely different and more complicated story.
While fishing is open year-round, some of the species are under strict regulations depending on the season and it is important to be respectful of the rules. Specifically, you cannot fish for Sturgeon from October through April, as well as in the month of June. You also cannot fish for Muskies from December through May. If you catch one by mistake, be sure to catch and release it to avoid a fine.
While walleye, sauger, northern pike, lake sturgeon, perch, and burbot are all fair game, there are limitations on how many you are allowed to keep per person per local fishing authorities. But knowing the regulations means you can get your fill of Walleye and Sauger fishing in winter or any other season.