We spend most of our free time in the first three months of each year ice fishing for lake trout. Because our business keeps us busy all summer long, in any given year, we spend considerably more time fishing in “hard water” conditions than we do on open water.
Ice fishing can seem a little daunting. For one thing, it can be downright chilly and people are sometimes apprehensive to invest in the specific gear needed for ice fishing. But while you might have to work a little harder to succeed at ice fishing, that just makes the experience all the more rewarding. The specialized gear needed is limited to a few rods, ice scoops, and augers. Best of all, ice fishing is a great excuse to spend sometime outdoors in the winter months, even if you come home empty handed.
Throughout the year, we hear a lot of questions from those curious about trying their hand at ice fishing. What’s your favorite lure? What’s the best hand auger? Why don’t you use a sled to haul your gear? To answer all those questions and more, Andy put together this ice fishing gear video tutorial.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to make a list of all the gear Andy mentions in the video. Just use our printable ice fishing packing list as an easy reference point when you pack for your next ice fishing adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Here’s one of the lures highlighted in the video:
The DNR’s Lake Finder website is a great resource to guide you in choosing a Gunflint Trail lake to ice fish on. You can always give us a shout at 218-388-2221 for lake recommendations too.
When Nathan, a family friend who happens to take a lake trout fishing focused winter camping trip each Martin Luther King weekend, told us that last fall, we knew we had to check it out. After all, Bat Lake is practically just a hop, skip, and jump from Tuscarora. So just four days into the Boundary Waters winter lake trout season, Andy and I headed across Round Lake to see if we could prove Nathan wrong.
Thanks to a bunch of ambitious winter campers who headed into the Boundary Waters just after Christmas, there are miles of very well packed trail from Round Lake through the Brant Lake entry point route. Since we weren’t pulling sleds and we also snowmobiled across Round Lake, we were able to reach Bat Lake in less than two hours.
Down the stairs on the portage from Gotter Lake into Flying Lake
Along the hike, I kept stopping to take photographs of the icicles on the shoreline cliff faces. This cliff face on Flying Lake is just past the portage into Green Lake.
When we reached Bat Lake, we set up speedily. With just six inches of pure blue ice, it doesn’t take long to drill enough holes for tip-ups and jigging, even with a hand auger!
Still, by the time we had lines in the water, it was after noon, so we weren’t exactly capitalizing on the “morning bite.” Although the action was a little slow for a lake the DNR says has abundant (but small) lake trout, we were able to prove correct Nathan’s theory that people always catch fish on Bat Lake. About an hour into our afternoon on Bat Lake, I reeled up this little guy. Andy unhooked him quickly and popped him back into the drink.
While we waited for more action on the lines, we took a timeout to make some coffee and cocoa as we watched the tip-up lines. With the shadows growing long, we knew it was time to start the trek home.
After a stop to chat up some winter campers, we walked home with a beautiful sunset at our backs. It’s amazing what a little snow and ice can do to transform a boggy lowland into a spectacular vista.
If you have not heard yet, the ice is finally out on all the lakes near us, even big Sag to the north. It was a little challenging for a while there to get back to the good lake trout lakes like Tuscarora and Gillis. For eager lake trout fishers that were willing to sit on smaller lakes and wait for the ice to go out, the reward was some good fishing and a lot of adventure.
Mike Vogt and his guys found out first hand what ice out trout fishing is like. They found the “glacier” on the Missing Link portage (which is still there by the way, but receding)! They spent a little time on Missing Link waiting for the ice to go out on Tuscarora. Strong spring winds kept them close to shore for a while. Eventually their patience was rewarded with some beautiful northerns and lakers, even enough to eat!
This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen Mike in a hat that is not a baseball cap. Can you tell what a likeable guy he is? I can hear him laughing right through that picture. It is not a leave-no-trace kind of laugh, it is a leave-you-laughing kind of laugh.
Suddenly it is Memorial Day weekend . The lakes are ice free, the temps are rising , the sun is out, and the fish are waiting! Come on up and share your fishing pictures with us!
The best fishing for lake trout is ONE week after the ice goes out. Ask anybody. People catch them by accident in the shallows during that week—and the Tuscarora Lake die hards are usually chomping at the bit to get in there the minute fishing opens. This year—the ice was a little late, so technically nobody has to miss that week.
Last year, one Saturday in June, my friend Monica and I headed out. We wanted two things: lake trout, and a work out.
So here’s the thing….we have a group of guys who go out every year in May—to one certain lake. I cannot give away their private destination on the internet, but let’s just say that I hadn’t fished it before, and they always always catch fish. But mostly, they also catch fun, and they’re usually laughing so hard when they are telling their stories that it made me want to visit THAT lake. They call themselves The THAT (name changed to protect their secret) lake boys.
Monica and I headed out for THAT lake. Let’s also just say that it is more than 7 portages in, so we also accomplished our workout–actually two work-outs, because it was also more than 7 portages out, with our lake trout.
Ever since I worked at Wilderness Canoe Base, and we hoisted the well cared for (heavy!) standard Grumman canoes around, and it hurt my shoulders from start to finish, I’ve craved portaging. I cannot explain it. I like the way it hurts. I would think I would be a good runner as well, with that craving, but I’m just not. I run really really slow: I don’t happen to LIKE the way that running hurts. But portaging, the activity where nobody ever wins a medal, I like to do until I’m shaky. Go figure. Away we went.
To paddle away on a busy Saturday was such an indulgence right there. And to have an uninterrupted chat with my friend that I don’t get to see enough—second bonus. But when we got to THAT lake, the wind was just right. And I also knew the trick, ….paddle right down the middle, and let the wind drift us back toward the portage. Easy as pie. Only—it was such a warm year that I knew the fish were….40-60 feet down, so we were letting out a lot of line. We had torpedo weights to pull down our Sutton spoons—tipped with minnows…we couldn’t fail, right? Since we were seriously fishing, we thought we’d leave the dog at home, but she HEARD us talking, and it was like she was attached to my knee, and the minute I put the canoe to float she was patiently in it. First one. We had to take her.
So we paddled, we floated, and BAM, we both caught fish. Same time, first pass. They felt like snags, classic. So we reeled and we reeled and we reeled and we reeled, and the wind picked up in the meantime and we started floating into the rocks with our beautiful Escape, so I had to stop reeling and put the rod between my knees,and start to paddle. Monica kept reeling, and my rod started to bend until it was obvious that somehow our fish were wrapped around each other, or our lines, or….oh, the trickiness of it. Denali was very politely trying to stay in the middle of the boat but she did have to supervise every move, so there was also THAT challenge to stay steady.
We were a little surprised after the fiasco of the landing to end up with one trout actually in our boat (her name was Edith)…….the other line broke….the wind picked up….we were tangled beyond belief, but we had Edith! What a great day!
Then we had to eat our lunches, and blow around, and re-tie our lines, and blow around and get tangled in the weeds and blow around…and….then, it really was time to take Edith and head back…we knew it would take us almost 3 hours..so we paddled and portaged….by the moose and her calf in the weeds, we couldn’t have been happier under the sun. Once we pulled the stringer up, and …….no Edith……we had to paddle back and retrieve her from the mud at the last portage.
Whoa, were we ever tired when we got back— where Caleb was waiting, to clean up little Edith, so Monica could take home the filet. Work out, check, lake trout, check.
Isn’t it funny how a day in the woods can feed a person’s soul in so many ways? I was feeling just a little more commeradarie and gratefulness for the exhuberance of those THAT lake boys, for passing on their expertise, for Edith, for our tangled adventure. I hope everybody gets a “day in the woods” this spring….and if you stop by the office, I can point you to the secret place where Edith’s cousins are waiting…hungry….in the shallows.