While ice conditions cannot be considered safe, there are still a good number of anglers out there taking advantage of the late ice season and doing quite well at it.
The crappie bite has really improved over the past couple weeks on area lakes. It is a very wise decision to only travel on these lakes with someone who has local knowledge and familiarity with ice conditions. There have been many reports of thin ice and in some instances open water when traveling across some lakes.
Lake and stream trout have been cooperating on many of the traditional trout lakes within and outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
With the current ice conditions, it is a good idea to travel in pairs with a throwable cushion and a good length of rope to aid in rescue should it become necessary. ALWAYS wear a life jacket with a set of ice picks readily at hand. If in doubt, remember there are no fish worth risking your life over. In a few weeks, ice will be disappearing off area lakes and fishing can resume with a boat or canoe under you.
With ambient air temps in the forties, the ice conditions are beginning to deteriorate but, there is still fishable ice on many of the surrounding lakes. Anyone venturing out under these conditions must exercise extreme caution. A good pair of cleats on your boots is recommended. With the snow cover almost completely gone, the water layer on the ice can make it very difficult to walk around, something akin to roller skating on greased glass. It cannot be stressed enough to drill holes as you go, to ensure the ice thickness is navigable. Don't travel alone either. If you should get into trouble, you may need someone to help you out or to go for additional help. A life jacket and a length of rope can be invaluable tools at this time of year. No matter the situation always remember - safety first.
Crappie fishing lately has been very good. Your choices of where to go may be the most difficult part of the trip to decide on. Many of the area crappie lakes all have decent numbers of fish. Minnows typically are the preferred bait, but wax worm tipped jigs and soft plastics have been edging minnows out lately. Pay attention to your electronics to locate the fish. Start at the bottom and work your way up to approximately one third of the water column, if you haven't marked fish, move on. Don't waste time by fishing unproductive holes. It might be the active fish are biting just a short hop away.
Trout are still on the table so to speak for the remainder of this month. Some of the larger lake trout lakes are producing and have sufficient ice for foot travel. Snowmobile and ATV travel should still remain viable for a bit longer. Active jigging rattle baits and small spoons are working well, and as always, a smelt or ciscoe on the bottom will usually tempt one of these lunkers to bite. Rainbows and splake were still active too.
Keep in mind that ice conditions can vary widely from lake to lake. Again, use caution and remember areas of current will have the least ice cover.
As another walleye/pike season draws to a close, most dedicated anglers will turn their attention to trout fishing. There are a good number of folks who have been reaping the reward of great trout encounters all winter long, and this couldn't be a better time to get your share. Though ice conditions aren't the greatest, there is still a wide array of lakes with fishable ice. Whether it is stream trout or lake trout, the Ely area has you covered. Many of the local trout lakes are easily reached on foot or by snowmobile. Access may be a bit more challenging for some lakes within the Boundary Waters which prohibits any mechanized travel, but with snowshoes, skis or a dogsled team, you can access some of the most productive lakes this part of the country has to offer.
There are stream trout lakes scattered throughout the area and many are stocked lakes with rainbows, splake, brown and brook trout. Rainbows tend to have a flurry of activity at daybreak, but the bite can occur anytime of the day. Splake and brook trout seem to do well in the afternoons lately. Small jigs and spoons worked throughout the water column may be tipped with wax worms or salted minnows to add smell and taste to your offering. Keep in mind that no live minnows are allowed on designated trout lakes.
The crappie bite is now under way and should just gain momentum for the next month or so as ice conditions allow. Don’t forget sunnies too!
Vehicular travel is NOT recommended on area lakes. Use caution around areas of current or springs as these areas many not have sufficient ice to even support four-wheeler traffic. Foot, ski, and snowshoeing to ice fishing spots remains some of the safer modes of travel, but again use caution and check ice thickness in those questionable areas.
The weather has been so mild, there's really no excuse to not get out there and spend at least a few hours on the ice, and it can be a great source of entertainment for both young and old alike. Kids love just being out and playing on the ice, and if you can bring home dinner, so much the better. Get out and enjoy this resource, before the ice just melts away.
Anglers are beginning to change their focus to panfish as is typical for this time of the ice season. Many of the smaller lakes in the area have begun to give up some decent catches of crappies and sunnies. Small minnows and wax worms have been the staples for live bait, but a good percentage of fishermen are using small soft artificial bait tipped jigs. This combination allows you to get right back down the hole without rebaiting when the action kicks in. This can make all the difference when one encounters small windows of opportunity as the bite turns hot for short periods of time.
Many folks are reeling in a good share of the northern pike in the area while using live suckers, frozen ciscoes and smelt fished near deeper weed beds or drop-offs adjacent to soft bottom flats. Spearing pike is continuing to be a great form of entertainment that in past years has been put to rest by now due to ice thickness. With just twelve inches or less of ice on most lakes this activity should continue through to ice out.
Lake trout are still being taken from local lake trout. The trout have been cruising in shallower water between twenty to forty feet of water. Tip-ups loaded with frozen smelt and ciscoes make a great backup to active jigging both rattle baits and white tube jigs actively fished throughout the water column.
With the absence of deep snow cover many anglers are trekking in to some of the more out of the way small lakes both inside and outside the Boundary Waters. These die hard anglers are meeting with moderate success and have been turning out some nice eating size walleyes in the sixteen to eighteen inch range.
The crappie bite is gradually picking up as the season progresses. Local crappie lakes are producing some decent catches of ten to twelve inch slabs. Anglers are still pulling good numbers of lake trout from area lakes too.
Northern pike fishermen have been doing well both by angling and spearing. Frozen smelt and ciscoes have been doing well on tip-ups, but live bait has been working well too. This is a great opportunity to catch that "fish of a lifetime" for many folks and you don't have to make that long trek in there on foot, as the area provides great dogsled outfitters willing to take you to those out of the way places.
Some caution needs to be observed whenever and wherever travelling on the ice this year, as not only do ice thicknesses vary considerably, but also great patches of slush have developed throughout the area and can bog down both snowmobiles and ATV's. Keep in mind that some lakes and rivers may have a fair amount of current moving through them, so in necked down areas around islands and choke points some ice may be unsafe. Springs and creek discharges that may also contribute to varied ice thickness as well. It's always a good idea to check with local bait shops or anglers to gather current information on your ice fishing destinations.
More and more anglers are turning their attention to trout fishing than ever before. Some impressive catches are coming out of the areas trout lakes. Small dark jigs tipped with a wax worm have been working well in the early morning hours, and as the day progresses, larger spoons such as VMC tingler and Tumbler spoons along with Kastmasters and Swedish Pimples are working well. Some folks are tipping the spoons with wax worms, salted minnows or in some cases the new soft plastics, with equal success. Staying mobile can really up your chances of connecting as these fish seem to roam over quite a large area instead of staging on structure. It has been best to start shallow and then move deeper as the day progresses. Lake trout have been fairly active, but many reports are of smaller fish in the three to six pound range. White tubes, spoons, Chubby Darters and Jigging Raps worked through the entire water column have been doing the trick some area lakes as well as ciscoes fished right near or on the bottom have been taking lakers up to ten pounds.
Spearing northern pike has been steadily making a comeback in the North Country lakes, and this winters ice conditions are ideal for taking these brutes. Large suckers or artificial decoys have been drawing these denizens to the hole like kids to a candy store. Any of the lakes surrounding the Ely area can produce some bragging size fish. Try the weed edges as most of the underwater plants remain green due to light snow and ice cover. As long as the plants stay green they will hold both the forage fish and the predators.
Crappie action remains good. Hole-hopping is still the best way to reach a limit of slabs. Mobile anglers appear to be taking the lion's share of the fish. Small spoons like Lindy Frostees, and Northland Forage minnows are tailor made for the run and gun fishermen. Buckshot flutter spoons are beginning to make their mark as a go-to bait for larger crappies, and can be fished alone, or tipped with a minnow head or a few wax worms hung from the trebles.
Ice conditions remain unstable for vehicular traffic other than sleds or four wheelers, and slush pockets are beginning to show up throughout the various lakes in the region. Some lakes have minimal ice roads, but use extreme caution when venturing off of them.
Trout action remains good throughout the area. Good numbers of rainbows and splake are turning up. We have also received reports of rainbows and brook trout dominating the scene with some exceeding twenty-two inches. Lake trout are still pleasing some anglers from local lakes, although some are on the small side of less than five pounds. This is a good indicator that trout are reproducing, but does little for the morale of anglers in search of trophy size fish.
People have still been spearing northern pike in the area. The limited ice thickness has prolonged the season and helped anglers connect on pike up to forty-two inches.
Walleye anglers are still struggling to find limits of keepers. Many small fish in the six to ten inch range are common, but weeding through them enables you to come home with at least a couple for dinner. Minnows fished under a bobber right on the bottom has produced the best results.
Some nice crappie catches have come in. It's still a good idea to drill as you go on local lakes as ice thickness has varied considerably.
Trout season opener was a success for many anglers on area lakes. Several local trout lakes had folks hooking up with lakers up to ten pounds. Some of the smaller stream trout lakes were producing good numbers of rainbows and splake as well. Some nice brook trout have responded to salted minnows and gold colored spoons. Rainbows were hitting small, dark jigs tipped with wax worms high up in the water column and the splake were smashing small bright spoons a bit deeper.
The ice thickness is somewhat variable. Most lakes have at least nine inches of ice, which is fine for four wheelers and snowmobiles, but it will take a bit more time for the ice to support full size vehicle traffic. Please note that although you may see permanent ice fishing shacks out on the lakes, they have been pulled out by means other than large trucks.
Walleye fishermen are still connecting with some decent size fish while using minnows in water from twelve to twenty feet. The exception to this is that anglers searching for lake trout have been connecting with some bigger walleyes while targeting lakers down to seventy feet.
Crappie and sunnies are co-operating to in relatively shallow water probably due to the weed growth still standing there. Light penetration has been excellent with the limited ice and lack of snow, so weeds should continue to thrive for some time yet. Northern pike are cruising these shallows too, and have been readily taking suckers fished under a tip-up.
With the onset of sub-zero temperatures, the anticipation is building all around northeast Minnesota for the stream and lake trout opener on the 16th. While ice thickness levels still vary widely, the continued cold spell should produce relatively good ice for travel by snowmobiles and ATVs, but may fall short for autos and trucks on the larger, deeper lakes. Check with local fishermen or bait shops for daily ice reports before heading out, and even then it is prudent to drill some test holes as you go just to be safe.
Walleye and pike fishermen are reporting decent catches on most area lakes, with the lion’s share of fish being taken during early morning and late afternoon. Walleyes are snapping up lively minnows on a dead stick as well as small spoons or jigs tipped with a minnow head. Consider changing your live bait often as the action of the bait triggers the best response. If your bobber is not dancing around the hole, it is time to change your bait. It's easy to become complacent when it's cold out. Packing up and moving around when it’s frigid gets to be a chore, but if you haven't been catching fish, it's time to move.
Some crappie and sunnie anglers are having success. The smaller lakes that hold good numbers of panfish are beginning to see more traffic as the ice builds. The crappies are responding well to live minnows, while sunnies are readily taking tiny jigs tipped with wax worms. Tungsten jigs are really producing well as they have a rapid sink rate compared to similar sized lead head jigs. They are slightly higher in price compared to lead, but for only a few cents more per jig the cost difference is negligible.
As always, consider no ice to be completely safe. Drill as you go and carry safety gear with you that include ice picks, a life jacket and a good length of rope. Never travel alone this early in the season.
More and more anglers are venturing out on the ice recently, but we recommend that anyone going out to drill as you go. Many lakes are sporting 9" of decent ice but it varies widely across any expanse. Deeper lakes such as our area trout lakes have only 4" of ice presently and with the onset of the cold spell this weekend we should see that number grow, provided we don't receive too much snow to insulate them.
Many anglers are having success chasing walleyes, pike, sunnies and crappies, and those numbers should increase as more fishermen head out over the next week or so.
As always, consider no ice to be safe. This is the time of year to take a life jacket, ice picks, and a good length of rope as standard equipment, and it's prudent to travel in pairs, keeping well apart from one another.
Smaller local lakes have been giving up decent numbers of sunnies and crappies and have near 9" of ice. Larger lakes are producing walleyes and pike but most travel is relegated to the bays, staying clear of any water inlets.