Ice fishing on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods & Rainy River area truly offers a unique and satisfying winter experience. Each year more visitors return to the area as they hear by word-of-mouth from their friends or relatives about this exciting wilderness area. Sprawling Lake of the Woods is the largest inland freshwater lake in the continental U.S. next to the Great Lakes and is truly considered “big water” country. Even so, it doesn’t take long to get out on the ice where the action is waiting.
There are over 50 resorts, sleeper services, and hotels in Lake of the Woods County. A wide range of winter services are offered. Visitors can have all the conveniences of home as they stay in a warm cabin, condo, motel, or sleeper fish house. Travel is available in heated track vehicles: van, bombardier (which seats 12); or by conventional trucks on plowed roads across the ice.
Minnesota Waters Fishing Regulation Summary
Walleye and Sauger
Lake of the Woods
(May 11, 2019 – April 14, 2020)
The Walleye/Sauger aggregate limit is six (no more
than four can be Walleye). Walleye from 19.5
through 28 inches must be immediately released.
Only one Walleye over 28 inches total length may be
Rainy River and Four Mile Bay
(May 11, 2019 – April 14, 2020)
Same as Lake of the Woods
(March 1, 2020 – April 14, 2020)
Catch and release fishing is allowed during this time
period. All Walleye and Sauger must be returned to
the water immediately.
All Northern Pike from 30 through 40 inches must
be released immediately, and only one Northern
Pike over 40 inches may be possessed. The
possession limit for Northern Pike is three.
There is no closed season for Northern Pike on Lake
of the Woods or the Rainy River.
The bag limit is 20 Yellow Perch per day, with 40 in
There is no closed season for Yellow Perch.
Lake Sturgeon cannot be harvested from Oct. 1,
2019 through Apr. 23, 2020. Catch and release
fishing is allowed during this time period.
See the “Canada-Minnesota” Border Waters section
of the fishing regulation booklet for more details
about Lake Sturgeon fishing regulations.
Ice roads on Lake of the Woods make ice fishing simple. Each resort works with different ice conditions and they can vary, so it is vital to check with the ice road provider before venturing out. Most ice roads sell an access pass and can give you additional details on the ice road and fish activity at that time. Resort Facebook Pages or a quick call up will help you better understand conditions and the many varying ice road reports. There are many roads available on the south shore of the lake so check out your options.
Resorts and outfitters on Lake of the Woods go to great efforts to provide ice roads. Constant plowing, adjusting roads due to ice conditions, ice bridges, driving the ice roads early in the morning to check conditions and broken equipment due to the harsh conditions Lake of the Woods dishes out are all part of the routine to make ice roads safe and smooth as possible.
It is important to stay on the marked roads, drive slow (as high speeds send a wave under the ice that can wreck the ice) and communicate with the ice road providers about current conditions. Ice fishing is happening and the fish are biting. This is a special time of the year for so many. Have fun and be safe!
The winter take usually consists of limits of walleye, saugers, northern pike, eelpout as well as jumbo perch and tulibee; which is good smoked. Up at the NW Angle, whitefish and crappies are abundant as well.
At the beginning of the season, usually around December 1, depending on the weather, there is a lot of action in the frozen bays and shoreline areas, with the majority of ice fishing kicking into full gear mid December. Popular baits are jigs and jigging spoons tipped with a shiner minnow. Anglers use a much shorter pole for ice fishing. The resorts usually furnish all the gear you need for a relaxing day on the ice.
As the ice fishing season gets in full swing a metamorphosis takes place. As if by magic, a whole community of shacks of all shapes and sizes mysteriously appear. Mushrooming near the fishing hot spots, approximately 1,500 to 3,000 are set up at any one time. This may sound like a lot, but with a huge lake like Lake of the Woods, there is no overcrowding. Like vagabonds, the houses will follow right along with the fishing patterns. Many are portable or come with skis which can be easily moved.
Dark house spearing for northern pike is another popular activity. The first ten days in December are extremely popular and productive. Spearing continues through February. Found along the shallow bays, the northern pike at Lake of the Woods are of trophy proportions.
Ice fishing continues through March with permanent fish houses being pulled off the ice by the end of March. Fish are putting on the feed bag this time of year and are ready for an active spring spawn. In addition to the great walleye and sauger fishing, northern pike are staging at the mouths of creeks, small rivers and other typical spawning locations. This is a great time to use tip ups and catch a trophy pike over 40″.
Sleeper Fish Houses
Fishing out of a sleeper fish house is almost like ice camping. You are in a spacious and cozy fish house for 2-3 days with friends and / or loved ones. Regardless of the temps outside, inside the fish house is nice and balmy. Fish from your bunk bead or with slippers on if you would like. Good times to break up a long winter season.
Ice Fishing “How To” Videos
For more information, feel free to contact the Lake of the Woods Area Tourism Bureau or one of our many resorts/hotels/outfitters.
To order additional information Click Here or call 1-800-382-FISH.
You can download the official Minnesota Fishing Regulations on the Minnesota DNR web site.