Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Minnesota: Our Top Five Pick

By Richard | Fishing Advice

best ice fishing lakes in minnesota
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From December to February, you will find several hard water anglers coming to the lakes of Minnesota to catch fish like the northern pike, walleye, and other different and popular fish species.

During these months, Minnesota lakes tend to get frozen, so ice fishing becomes a popular outdoor activity for most anglers.

With more than 11,000 lakes, you will have no trouble finding some of the best ice fishing lakes in Minnesota that are brimming with auger-ready spots.

Of course, among those countless lakes, there is a handful that is known to be angler’s favorite lakes.

These lakes boast a large number of your favorite fish species, and the chances of you returning home from these lakes empty-handed are quite low.

However, before we discuss some of these top ice fishing lakes in Minnesota, let’s talk about ice fishing itself for people who have never done it before.

What is Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing is a lot about getting into a little recreation and camaraderie during those super cold winters to enjoy the sport of fishing.

For the purist, ice fishing could be something basic such as creating a hole in the frozen lake, setting up a line, and sitting on a stool until you find a fish.

Since then, this type of fishing had come a long way when the natives began making holes in these lakes to find food.

For them, their main goal was majorly sustenance-driven. In today’s time, though, this has become mostly about sport, but of course, many folks still do it to catch a fish to eat.

Ice fishing is popular in many places across the globe, and you will find this commonly practiced in places like Northern Europe and the North American continent.

In the latter, you will find it in cold places like Wisconsin, Alaska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Canada, and Minnesota.

Some of the most popular ice fishing lakes in North America are Lake Simcoe in Canada, Lake Champlain in New York, Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, Lake Houghton in Michigan, and Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota.

Best Ice Fishing Lakes in Minnesota

While ice hockey may be the official sport in the state of Minnesota, you will find several anglers and outdoors persons more drawn to ice fishing during the winter months.

After all, being called the land of a thousand lakes makes Minnesota renowned worldwide for ice fishing.

We decided to talk about only some of the most visited and top ice fishing lakes in Minnesota for you to easily choose which one to visit.

These lakes have abundant fish species, great views, and amenities you can enjoy if you plan to stay for a long time.

1. Mille Lacs Lake

The Mille Lacs Lake is massive but shallow.

It is located in the counties of Crow Wing, Aitkin, and Mille Lacs, and is about 100 miles north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

Mille Lacs basically translates to “thousand lakes” in French.

The lake is also called Misi-zaaga'igan, which means "grand lake", in the Ojibwe language of the people who historically lived in this area.

Mille Lacs is 132,516 acres in size and is the second-largest island lake in this state after the Red Lake.

While massive, the lake only has a maximum depth of 42 feet, and the majority of the main lake has a depth that ranges from 20 to 38 feet.

Rock bars and gravel are most common in the southern part of this lake, and there are also two islands in the center of the lake that comprise the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.

Shallow reef-top fishing exists on every side of this lake, while for deep-water angling, you will need to visit the southern part that consists of deep gravel and rocks.

On the other hand, the northern part of the lake features dozens of mudflats.

Shoreline break fishing on a variety of bottom types also occurs around the lake.

Mille Lacs Lake also consists of many different species of fish, such as the northern pike, jumbo perch, walleye, muskie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, burbot, tullibee, and black crappie.

With so many different and popular species of fish, this lake is one of Minnesota’s popular fishing lakes.

However, there has been a consistent decline in the population of the walleye.

This has led to a stricter regulation on fishing here, and anglers are only limited to catch one Walleye a day.

During the winter months, you will find thousands of anglers taking advantage of this frozen lake.

There are also several local businesses set up to cater to ice fishers, making it an easy choice for new anglers to take advantage of this lake.

2. Gull Lake

Gull Lake is located in Crow Wing County and Cass County and considered to be among the largest lakes in the Brainerd, Minnesota-Baxter, Minnesota, and is also a highly famous spot for recreation and vacation.

Its shoreline is one of the most developed across the state, and it features several residential and commercial interests.

For every shoreline mile, there are about 28 cabins or homes, and the shoreline of this lake features 19 resorts such as the notable Cragun’s, Grand View Lodge, and Madden’s.

The Gull Lake is a little under 10,000 acres in surface area with an average depth of 30 feet and a maximum depth of 80 feet.

It is 15.3 miles long and 3.3 miles wide.

This shallow lake primarily consists of gravel and sand, but there are also areas of boulder and rubble.

The Gull Lake houses more than 35 different species fish species, and this helps maintain a large population of fish.

You will find the panfish and bass in abundance in this lake, thanks to the bulrush plant that provides a suitable habitat for these fish species. 

Additionally, anglers are also attracted to the well-stocked walleyes.

Since 2003, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has stocked nearly three million walleyes into this lake.

Another popular fish that anglers like to catch in this lake is the Northern Pike.

What truly stands out about the Gull Lake is the Ice Fishing contest held here.

This lake is where the annual, Jaycees Brainerd-hosted, charitable ice fishing competition, called Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza, is held.

There are about 20,000 ice fishing holes drilled into the lakes for this event.

The lake also houses several ice fishing tour guides, ice fishing equipment, and ice house rentals in abundance in the lake’s surrounding area, which is at the nearest towns of Brainerd and Nisswa.

best ice fishing lakes in minnesota

3. Lake of the Woods

The Lake of the Woods is a lake that occupies parts of Manitoba and Ontario provinces of Canada and the Minnesota state of the USA.

The lake separates the Northwest Angle and the town of Angle Township from the rest of the USA, and it can only be reached by crossing the lake or traveling through Canada.

This lake is fed by the Shoal Lake, Kakagi Lake, Rainy River, and several other smaller rivers.

Lake of the Woods drains into the Winnipeg River, which eventually drains into Lake Winnipeg.

The lake is more than 70 miles long and wide, and has a surface area of about 1,700 acres and has a maximum depth of 210 feet.

The lake contains over 14,000 islands and comprises more than 65,000 miles of shoreline.

This lake is the six-largest lake located in the USA after the five Great Lakes.

Lake of the Woods is home to several fish species like the northern pike, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch, sauger, and crappie.

Walleye are found abundantly in the Lake of the Woods, so it is referred to as the walleye capital of the world.

Since there is an abundance of walleyes in this lake, you must have the right fishing gear to catch them, which is why our choices for the best reels for walleye fishing are something that will truly interest you.

Lake of the Woods is also considered to be one of the most popular ice fishing lakes in Minnesota since, at the height of the season, you can easily find 2,000 to 3,000 fishing houses set up near the popular fishing spots.

It goes without saying that with all the popularity, it also comes with several amenities and services, which include more than 50 resorts, hotels, and sleeper services.

It also features plowed roads that allow for easier access across the ice.

Lake of the Woods has its official tourism website, and they suggest that the best spot for ice fishing can be done on the lake’s shoreline areas and frozen bays.

4. Lake Vermilion

Lake Vermilion is a freshwater lake situated in the northeastern part of Minnesota.

It is located between the towns of Cook on the west and Tower on the east and is found in the heart of the state’s Arrowhead Region.

Lake Vermilion has a surface area of 39,271 acres with a maximum length of 10.38 miles and a maximum width of 24 miles.

The lake has a maximum depth of 76 feet and an average depth of 25 feet.

It also consists of 313 miles of shore length.

This lake also has some popular fish species like the black crappie, brown bullhead, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, sunfish, walleye, and yellow perch.

That said, the lake is particularly known for its muskie and walleye fishing.

There are consumption guideline restrictions placed on this lake for certain fish species, though, due to mercury contamination.

Lake Vermilion has its own website that offers specific time tables for fishing for every single month.

This also includes peak activity timing and the daily hours for the best ice fishing during the winter months.

5. Upper Red Lake

The Red Lake is the largest inland lake in Minnesota, located about an hour north of Bemidji or the center of northern Minnesota.

While it is technically one lake, it appears as if it is more than two since just a small channel separates it.

That, along with a large difference in the lake’s regulations and structure, is why you will find people referring to this lake either as Upper Red Lake or Lower Red Lake.

All in all, the lake spans more than 288,000 acres.

The Lower Red Lake is not open to the public.

It is also important to note that about 60% of the Upper Red Lake is not open to the public.

If you are looking to fish in this area, you will need to do so with a tribal guide.

In the end, this leaves the public with about 75 miles of the Upper Red Lake that is open to fishing, which is a lot of lake in itself to tackle.

One of the most well-known aspects of the Upper Red Lake is that it’s quite large in size and shallow too.

In the public sector, the lake has a maximum depth of about 15 feet only.

This shallow depth allows the lake to freeze quickly during the fall and makes it one of the most visited ice destinations in the Midwest.

As per the Upper Red Lake Area Association, the area open for the public to fish offers some of the best walleye fishing calibers in Minnesota.

That said, back in the late 1990s, there was overharvesting of walleyes which led to the collapse of the fishery on this lake.  

After a cooperative effort between the State of Minnesota and Red Lake Band, which also included adding 90,000,000 walleye fry back into this lake for six years, has thankfully led to a dramatic comeback.

There are several access points in this lake located on the eastern shore, which is off State Highway 72.

The Upper Red Lake is an excellent spot for ice fishing for anglers looking to catch the walleye, northern pike, and crappie.

Conclusion

These five are some of the best ice fishing lakes in Minnesota you can visit.

You are assured of finding some of the best species of fish, and since these lakes are so popular, they include several amenities to make your trip satisfactory.

We highly recommend visiting one or two of these ice fishing lakes if you’re in Minnesota during the winter months.

Just make sure you already have the right equipment to enjoy your adventure!

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