Brad Laabs: Red Lake is popular for early ice-fishing
We caught a break, with Tuesday’s snow storm missing us. The Twin Cities metro area received 4-6 inches, our Brainerd neighbors got hit with 10 inches of wet, heavy snow, and the Duluth area received about 7-8 inches.
The fact we didn’t get hit has left ramps and accesses in good shape. There are no docks out and water levels are low, so prepare for more challenging boat launching and loading. We will still have open water for a couple weeks, but with lake surface temps in the high 30 degree range, it won’t take many days of below freezing days in a row to skim over with ice. We have significantly shorter daylight hours each day now, and the sun does not have as much power when it is shining to make much of an impact now.
Not many anglers are continuing to get out on the open water, some because of deer hunting, but mostly due to the inconsistent weather. The yo-yo weather leaves us in a position of having to choose time to sneak out on the water based on small windows of breaks in the weather.
Most fish have moved back to more shallow water now and are relating to the first break off shore line areas and large flats. These will also be the areas that will have the best early ice bite when that finally happens for us.
As soon as you are done with putting away your hunting gear and open water fishing gear, it will be time to organize your ice fishing gear.
The Minnesota DNR has made a decision about the harvest for walleyes on Mille Lacs Lake and has changed the limit and slot for Red Lake. Mille Lacs will have a one-walleye limit and the fish must be at least 21 inches, and be under 23 inches.
Red Lake has become a very popular early ice destination. It ices over early and has a very good shallow water bite on the first break in the 7-9 foot water. The new limit for walleyes will be three fish, with only one allowed to be over 17 inches.
Lake of the Woods, one of the other most popular ice fishing destinations in the state, will continue with a six-fish limit, with no more than four being walleyes. Walleyes must be under 19.5 inches or one walleye over 28 inches is allowed. There are no size limits on sauger.
Look for Red Lake to have fishable ice at least a week or more before we have walk-out ice (at least three inches) in our area. Lake of the Woods follows fairly quickly after Red Lake, as it is typically colder than we are here, and has even less daylight hours per day than we do. Mille Lacs, because of its location and size, will usually be at least a week or two behind us for being able to get on fishable ice.
Be safe on the open water now with the cold water temps, and when it comes time to get on the ice, be patient enough to get a solid three inches before walking out on the ice.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)