Ice fishing in full swing across the region

If an ice fishing season that’s in full swing by Dec. 1 seems early, you’re right.

It is.

“This is by far the earliest best freeze-up I can remember,” longtime Devils Lake fishing guide and outdoor TV host Jason Mitchell said earlier today. He said ice in the Devils Lake region varies from more than 10 inches on shallow bays and areas such as Pelican Lake and Lake Irvine to 4 or 5 inches on the main lake.

He said he hasn’t heard any reports of anglers venturing out on widespread hunts for perch, but walleye fishing has been great. Mitchell says he’s had nights where every walleye he marked on his electronics has bit.

On Upper Red Lake, West Wind Resort in Waskish, Minn., posted a Facebook report this morning that it is allowing half-ton pickups out to the first break line, where there’s a consistent 12 to 14 inches of ice atop 8 to 10 feet of water. There’s less ice beyond that, the resort post indicates, so vehicles are advised to stay near the road. The best walleye action is in 8 to 10 feet of water anyway, the resort said, so there’s no need to venture any farther.

Ice fishing also is off to an early start on Lake of the Woods. Deanna Painovich of Zippel Bay Resort north of Williams, Minn., said the bay already has 12 inches to 14½ inches of ice while the main lake as of Saturday had 6 to 12 inches.

The resort was scheduled to shuttle its first group of winter anglers onto the ice this afternoon, she said. The ice is rough in places, Painovich said, but early reports indicate good water clarity and good fishing.

Farther east, the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau shared a report from Morris Point Resort, where there’s about 10 inches of ice, and the resort’s ice road is open to ATVs and portables.

Painovich says this is earliest start to winter fishing she can remember in quite some time.

“It’s been a lot of years ago, but I know we were out right after Thanksgiving one year,” she said. “It’s amazing to be out the first of December, after all the late years we’ve had.”

Anglers planning to venture north to tackle the big “greenback” walleyes on Lake Winnipeg would do well to wait until there’s more snow to fill in the rough ice that’s piled in along the south shore, said winter fishing guide Jason Hamilton of Jason Hamilton Outdoors.

“Frozen but ultra rough — need snow,” said Hamilton, who’s headed to the Twin Cities on Friday for the annual St. Paul Ice Show extravaganza at the St. Paul RiverCentre.

He said a road trip to the Twin Cities is a better option than ice fishing for now.

“I don’t even want to go out on the ice it’s so bad,” he said.

Monday Lake of the Woods ice update

Joe Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism sent out an ice update for the big lake late this morning.

Here’s his report:

Wearing his trademark fox hat, R.C. Carlson of Red Fox Ice Fishing uses a snowmobile to pull a fish house across the ice Saturday in the Northwest Angle area of Lake of the Woods. (Lake of the Woods Tourism photo)

“The ice is forming nicely and water clarity looks good. Current ice report, Four-Mile Bay, 7-9 inches; Bostic Bay, 11 inches; Zippel Bay, 5-8 inches. On the lake, there’s 8 inches of ice in front of Pine Island, 3 to 4 inches off Zippel Bay and 3 inches near Birch Beach.

“There are some cracks and areas that need more time,” Henry said. “Everything depends upon weather. Some resorts may allow ATV travel after Thanksgiving. Water is looking clear. Some local guides have been catching walleyes. Pike spearing going well. Ice fishing season is shaping up nicely. When it’s time, work through resorts and follow marked ice trails.”

Farther north, Henry says there will be ATV and snowmobile traffic after Thanksgiving up at the Northwest Angle, where there’s 7 to 8 inches of ice in Minnesota waters and 3 to 5 inches in current areas.

“Many cracks as common this time of year,” Henry said. “Looking forward to this week of cold weather.”

Some resorts at the Angle will be setting out rental houses Dec. 10, Henry said.

On the Rainy River, Henry says there’s 5 inches of ice in front of Timber Mill Park in Baudette, Minn., in front of Baudette Bay and at the airport. Some walleyes being caught in 14 to 18 of water of water in the evenings by locals who know the ice, Henry said — safety first.

Given Lake of the Woods’ popularity as a winter fishing destination, lodging will be at a premium when ice fishing hits full swing. For more information on lodging availability, click here.

Friday ice update

Devils Lake continues to make ice, and it won’t be long before anglers begin venturing out in some areas — if they haven’t already.

Satellite image of Devils Lake from today.

I checked out the MODIS Today website, which provides daily satellite images from across the country, this afternoon. There were just enough clouds to slightly obscure the view of Devils Lake, but it’s apparent ice is beginning to form in many areas.

As the satellite photo here shows, the areas with the most ice are a bluish-white color while the parts of the lake with the least ice appear as more of a solid blue. Judging by the satellite imagery, that means Main Bay has the least ice while Pelican Lake in the upper left-hand corner and areas farther east have better ice. Smaller lakes to the north have been frozen for the past week.

Today’s satellite view of Lake of the Woods.

Looking to the east, clouds also obscured part of Lake of the Woods, but today’s satellite imagery shows Big Traverse Bay, which comprises the bulk of Minnesota waters, is mostly ice-covered, as is Buffalo Bay in Manitoba and portions of Ontario waters farther east. The ice likely will move and shift a bit with the wind over the next few days until it’s better established, but all signs point to one of the earliest starts to ice fishing in several years.

It’s hard to believe I was out there in a boat less than three weeks ago.

Ice fishing already is in full swing on Upper Red Lake, which is considerably shallower than either Lake of the Woods or Devils Lake and among the first big lakes in the region to freeze. A couple of resorts, West Wind and Rogers’ on Red, are allowing ATV and snowmobile traffic, but anglers who venture out are advised to stay on the staked trails where ice thickness has been confirmed. There’s already a solid 9 inches in places, from what I’ve read.

The cover story in this coming Sunday’s outdoors section features an update on “The Big Three” — Devils Lake, Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake — and fishing outlooks for this winter. You’ll find the story here on Sunday.