Closing Out 2012 On The Ice

I closed out 2012 on a fine note, fishing three out of the last four days of the year.

Friday, a friend and I joined Darwin Sumner and Daris Rosebear of Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake, Minn., for a day of trout fishing on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. This winter, for the first time, the band is allowing nontribal members to fish four small lakes on the reservation stocked with rainbow trout and brook trout.

To fish the lakes, nontribal members must be accompanied by a reservation guide, and Seven Clans Casino is offering fully outfitted trout-fishing trips throughout the winter months. In other words, just show up and they’ll provide the gear and heated portable fish houses. A one-day license costs $10, and longer-length licenses also are available. Because the Red Lake Indian Reservation is a sovereign nation, regulations differ from state-managed waters in Minnesota, and a trout stamp isn’t required.

An average-size rainbow trout from a small lake in the Red Lake Indian Reservation. (Brad Dokken photo)

The lakes might be small, but the trout are dandies. One of us who shall remain nameless had trouble putting fish on the ice, but the trout mostly cooperated, and “we” landed several rainbows ranging from 16 inches to 22 inches. No brook trout were landed, but my fishing partner lost one at the hole.

We fished two small lakes and didn’t see another person the entire day. The scenery and the quality of fishing rivals the kind of experience you might expect venturing into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in winter — within a 2½-hour drive of Grand Forks.

I’ll have a story about the reservation’s trout fishing opportunities in Sunday’s Northland Outdoors Section. For more information on the reservation’s winter trout excursions, click here:

Saturday, I ventured north to join longtime friend and fishing partner Jim Stinson of Lockport, Man., to try our luck on Lake Winnipeg and the Red River.

Hmmm … where do I go now? Trying to navigate a large expanse of rough ice Sunday on Lake Winnipeg proved to be a challenge even by snowmobile (Brad Dokken photo)

Late Sunday morning, as we drove snowmobiles onto the massive expanse of Lake Winnipeg, we were greeted by several miles of some of the roughest ice I’ve ever seen. Jagged shards of ice, some more than 3 feet tall, covered one area of the lake for what seemed to be several miles in every direction, preventing us from reaching one of our time-proven fishing spots.

The rough ice forced us to backtrack and search for a smoother place to set up the portable, but we finally had our lines in the water about 12:30 p.m. Considering we basically picked a spot at random, fishing wasn’t bad at all, and we landed 10 walleyes

Few places can rival Lake Winnipeg, where walleyes generally seem to be 20 inches or longer. Brad Dokken landed this 25-incher early Sunday afternoon.

ranging from 20 inches to 27 inches in length by the time we packed up and headed for shore four hours later. In my experience, there’s nowhere within easy driving distance that rivals Lake Winnipeg for quality-size walleyes. There’s not much infrastructure such as the rental houses and plowed access roads, but for anglers with the means and desire to explore, the walleyes are well worth the effort.

Monday, we shifted gears and fished the Red River not far from Selkirk. We accessed the river by snowmobile, but lots of anglers were getting around in full-size pickups on ice that was about 14 inches thick.

Winter fishing on the Manitoba side of the Red River generally is better early in the morning in my experience, and while we didn’t start fishing until after 11 a.m., the two of us managed to scratch out an eight-fish limit — five walleyes and three saugers — before heading home about 4 p.m.

Jim also had a fish snap his line that left us wondering what might have been.

Nothing came easy those two days, but there are worse ways to wrap up a year than catching fish on Lake Winnipeg and the Red River.

3 Responses

  1. SWMNSiouxFan

    Brad, I was wondering if you could direct to the Q and A where you talked about the line you like to use ice fishing. I remember reading it but not all the details, must be old age sinking in. Thanks

    1. Not a problem. Here’s the info about ice fishing line as it appeared in the Q&A: That’s one of those questions that if you ask 10 different people, you’ll probably get 10 different answers.
      Personally, my go-to reel for walleyes in winter is spooled up with Berkley Fireline (I think it’s 6-pound test). I just take the reel off my main summer walleye rod and switch it over to my favorite ice rod. It’s the same line I use in summer and works just fine. I’ve had no issues with coiling, a problem I often experienced when I used monofilament line in winter.
      I also touched base with a couple of fishing buddies, and one uses either Berkley Nano Fil (10-pound test) or 8-pound Fireline Crystal; another said he uses 4-pound-test Fireline.
      My only knock against Fireline or any of the other braided super lines on the market is it’s tough to get a slip bobber knot to hold without having to reset every time you reel in a fish. You have to get the knot pulled as tightly as you can. I haven’t tried the Sufix brand of ice lines, of which there are several on the market.
      Bottom line, I think, is that just about anything is going to be an improvement over mono. Until I come across something better, Fireline is my preferred choice.

  2. SWMNSiouxFan

    Thanks Brad, I enjoy reading your blog and articles on-line. It’s fun to read about the places you go fishing. I’m originally from Devils Lake and love getting back there when I can, but a trip I really want to go on is fish “greenbacks” on the Red north of Winnipeg (thanks to your writing of course). Thanks again.

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