As I do every year about this time, I made my first Lake of the Woods trip of the winter this week to sample the hard-water fishing out of Ballard’s Resort.
The trip to Ballard’s, which is located near the mouth of the Rainy River north of Baudette, Minn., has become a pre-Christmas tradition, and the early ice action can offer up some of the best fishing of the year.
If what I saw Monday was any indication, it’s going to be a fun winter on Lake of the Woods.
The season is just getting started, and resorts are erring on the side of caution until ice conditions improve. Fishing north of Pine Island, we had about 9 inches of ice separating us from the bottom of the lake some 17 feet below but the conditions apparently aren’t consistent. Just to be safe, the Ballard’s staff and those from other resorts were using lightweight vehicles such as Polaris Rangers and Suzuki Samurais (or similar brands) to tow heated trailers and transport anglers to the fish houses.
The action likely would have been faster in deeper water, but the size of the fish we were catching made up for it. We had good runs in the morning and again later in the afternoon, and two of us kept seven walleyes and three saugers. The walleyes measured 15 to 18 inches, and the saugers were in the 14- to 15-inch range.
Lipless crankbaits, specifically Salmo Chubby Darters and Northland Tackle’s new Rippin’ Shad, were the hot lures and caused the walleyes to come unglued during the morning and afternoon flurries.
There’s almost no snow in Lake of the Woods country to this point, and the ice was smooth once we got about 50 yards north of Pine Island. If I had brought my skates, I would have strapped them on during the midday lull. The Rainy River, too, was smooth as glass, and I probably could have skated to Baudette if time and motivation had allowed.