Ice season is into full swing in our area. The number of hard houses and portables out, especially on the weekends, is clearly an indication of the growing popularity of this winter sport.
Equipment like augers, ice houses (permanent and portable), electronics, warm weather gear, rod and reels, and even fishing lines keep improving.
The cost of getting into ice fishing can be very reasonable. The equipment lasts well and can provide many seasons of outdoor entertainment. The level of comfort available now also makes it easier to get young kids involved in this lifetime winter activity.
If you are struggling for holiday gift ideas, there are always new products out that range from a couple bucks (bobbers, jigs, lures, etc.) for stocking stuffers, all the way up to the $2,000 extremely high tech Panoptix sonar by Garmin. I have not used the Panoptix, but have seen it demonstrated. It will change ice fishing. If you want to be my Secret Santa and throw one my way ... no problem ... it will get good use!
Anyway, the range of ideas for gifts for the winter anglers is almost unlimited. We have quality bait shops, sporting goods store, and box stores that carry everything the ice angler could need or want. Shop local.
Red Lake and Lake of the Woods have had a tremendous early ice bite going for walleyes. ATV, UTV, and sled traffic only through last weekend.
Resorts have skidded houses out for rent and are transporting customers with track vehicles and small Suzuki/Geo Tracker type vehicles with people haulers to stay safe on the foot of ice. I would look for single-axle wheel houses and half-ton trucks and SUVs to be able to travel on resort ice roads by next weekend.
On Lake of the Woods, many fish are scattered along the south shore and transitioning out to the deeper basin. We had a good bite in the 21-foot water last weekend when I was out with a couple buddies. I was up working on a buddy's retirement home, but we had to make time to fish, with the early bite being so good. On Lake of the Woods, the walleyes hit hard when they came in, but the saugers needed to be teased and coaxed.
Locally, many anglers have enjoyed an above-average start to the early crappie and sunfish season. The walleye bite was very good early in shallower water, but has been a little more challenging as the fish transition deeper.
The walleyes will settle into a couple of active feeding periods, with some lull periods during the daytime. The early morning and just before dark to after dark bite is very typical this time of the season, especially with our clear water lakes and very minimal snow cover at this time.
Northern action and pan fish can keep anglers on a bite from dawn to dusk. The nice weather forecast from now through Christmas will make for pleasant days on the ice fishing on buckets, or in light portables.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)