Considering Minnesota boasts 10,000 lakes, hard-water fishermen can be hard pressed to home in on a particular favorite. This road trip focuses on the state’s western half. Along the way, intrepid anglers can find good Midwestern fare with enough calories to keep the inner fire burning during long days on the ice.
1. The Deep Blue
In late winter, panfish move out of skinny cover toward deeper waters, especially on shallow lakes like Tamarac. Here, big bluegills school in a 17-foot hole near the center of the northern basin. Punch holes until you find it, tie on a mousie-tipped Genz worm, and work it down the water column to see where fish are holding.
2. Rattle the Teeth
Recent fish counts on Lake Sallie show a healthy class of walleyes in the 15- to 19-inch range. Dead-sticking shiners or working a rattle spoon are both effective now. If you try the former, be prepared for a toothy surprise, as Sallie is managed as a trophy pike fishery with fish up to 30 inches a good possibility.
3. Catch Some Zs
After a cold day on the ice, warm up with some grub at Zorbaz. Since 1969, the beach bar has been a Minnesota institution. If the Hot Hawg green chili–jalapeño pie isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other options. They also boast what is arguably the state’s largest selection of brews, including regional favorite Grain Belt.
4. Early Bite
Skip fishing one morning and eat breakfast at the Viking in Fergus Falls. A seat at the counter in this classic diner may also get you some local fishing info. Though the Viking is famous for omelets, opt for the Grash instead. The pile of hash browns smothered in sausage gravy will keep you full and warm for the rest of the day.
5. Perch Here
Shack up for the weekend with Meister Guide Service (meisterguideservice.com). Ross Hagemeister will not only rent you an icehouse on Otter Tail Lake but also have the heat on and holes drilled when you arrive. Yellow perch here prefer fathead minnows, but bring several dozen to sort through sometimes abundant short fish.
6. In the Weeds
As the sun sets, the panfish bite gets hot on Lake Ida northwest of Alexandria. There’s a lot of room to fish on the 4,400-acre impoundment, so ditch the crowds and drill your holes along heavy weedlines in 12 to 20 feet of water. Here, you should find lots of crappies in the 10- to 12-inch range, the perfect size for a fish fry.
Illustration by L-DOPA