First trip to Lake of the Woods

Fishing wasn’t fast and furious, but it was good enough to keep things interesting Monday when a friend and I made a quick trip to Ballard’s Resort on Lake of the Woods.

Hundreds of fish houses dotted the frozen expanse of Lake of the Woods on Monday north of Pine Island. (Brad Dokken photo)

Set up in about 25 feet of water north of Pine Island, we kept 11 saugers and released at least twice that many smaller walleyes and saugers. I also released a 24-inch walleye that came through suspended. When I saw the blip about 6 feet down on the screen of my Vexilar FL-18, I quickly reeled my jigging spoon to get it in the fish’s viewing range. There was no hesitation, and the fish absolutely slammed the lure.

As my first walleye through the ice this winter, the fish sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the season.

Lake of the Woods has to have the largest collection of small rigs such as Geo Trackers and Suzuki Samurais in the country right now, as most of the resorts use the light vehicles to pull trailers to transport anglers onto the lake until the ice can support larger tracked vehicles. I’m guessing we had 10 to 12 inches of ice in the area where we were fishing, but Ballard’s staff said they were continuing to find areas with thinner ice, in some cases as little as 5 inches to 7 inches.

That’s why it’s best to access the lake through a resort this time of year.

There was no doubt that the winter fishing season was in full swing. Several hundred fish houses dotted the frozen horizon north of Pine Island, most of them rentals from resorts along the south shore.

No doubt ice fishing is big business on the big lake. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, results from a creel survey show anglers logged about 1.6 million hours on the ice last winter. That’s nearly twice as many hours as anglers spent fishing the lake this past summer.

I’ll have more about the past year’s creel survey in Sunday’s Northland Outdoors section.

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